In defence of cultural appropriation
October 21, 2015 8:34 AM   Subscribe

Yo Zushi: Many of those calling out cultural appropriation of all kinds – from clothing and hair to musical genres – seem to share this proprietorial attitude, which insists that culture, by its nature a communally forged and ever-changing project, should belong to specific peoples and not to all. Banks is doubtless correct to feel this “undercurrent” of racial persecution by an industry that prefers its stars to be white and what they sell to be black, yet there is also truth in the second part of that undercurrent: “Y’all don’t really own shit.” When it comes to great movements in culture, the racial interloper is not wrong. None of us can, or should, “own” hip-hop, cornrows, or the right to wear a kimono.
posted by Chrysostom (395 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
Culture is appropriation. But there's also nothing wrong with challenging casual or disrespectful attitudes.
posted by chimaera at 8:42 AM on October 21, 2015 [29 favorites]


hot takes getchyer hot takes
posted by griphus at 8:43 AM on October 21, 2015 [44 favorites]


Very interesting article, since in some sense experiencing other cultures and making them a part of your life or work could be seen as a positive, but obviously only if done right. And like chimaera said, culture really is just the spread of ideas, and people have been 'stealing' them from each other since time began.

It can also go in a very bad direction when it borders on, or is, parody or if the only exposure that culture gets to the mainstream (of whatever culture is appropriating it) is through the lens of an outsider.

I guess, like most things, the answer is just to be sensitive. And if you find what you're doing is hurting or offending other people (particularly those that are oppressed or undervalued in society) to rethink it.
posted by mosschief at 8:50 AM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I’m Japanese but I felt no anger when I read that the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston was holding kimono try-on sessions to accompany its recent exhibition “Looking East: Western Artists and the Allure of Japan” – after all, it was a show that specifically set out to examine the orientalist gaze.

Yeah, which to me is not even in the same universe as drunken white people wearing "war bonnets" at a music festival. Trying on clothing from another time and place in the context of engaging with the history and culture is not "appropriation," just like painting your face and yelling "Scalp 'em!" at a sporting event is not "honoring" Native American culture.
posted by rtha at 8:56 AM on October 21, 2015 [75 favorites]


Well, now I don't know what to do for halloween.
posted by tummy_rub at 8:57 AM on October 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Shapeless polo shirts and ill-fitting dockers are our culture. They're not for you.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 8:58 AM on October 21, 2015 [35 favorites]


Speaking to the website Jezebel, the law professor Susan Scafidi of Fordham University in New York explained that appropriation involves “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions or artefacts from someone else’s culture without permission”. Yet such a definition seems to assume the existence of mythical central organisations with absolute mandates to represent minority groups – a black HQ, an Asian bureau, a Jewish head office – from which permissions and authorisations can be sought.

Well, there sort of is. Groups come to a loose consensus about the sort of stuff that can be appropriated and can't, and usually it has a lot to to with objects or expressions of special significance. Jewish people, for example, have a pretty consistent consensus that bagels are not a unique enough cultural expression to complain when McDonald's offers them, there was less consensus about the kabala craze (but ultimately there was little that could be done, as it was Jews who were selling it to gentiles), and I suspect there is a pretty strong consensus that phylacteries are not fashion accessories.

I've never heard a Native American complain about moccasins or fry bread becoming widely popular. But the headdresses have special significance, and anything that makes the native experience look like a costume that can be put on and taken off will get complaints.

African-Americans can be especially sensitive to the subject, and, I think, understandably, because so much of their history is one of theft by the dominant culture. But complaints about Iggy Azalea's career rarely seem to be about the fact that she does rap at all, but that so much of her rapping seems to be an impersonation of black artists. The Beastie Boys, who rapped about their own experiences in their own voices, never received the sort of criticism that Azalea gets.

So there is a way to suss out what art and objects and cultural expressions are considered to be special enough not to be borrowed willy nilly, and, almost without exception, I have found these things make sense, and aren't too hard to identify.
posted by maxsparber at 9:00 AM on October 21, 2015 [86 favorites]


Well, now I don't know what to do for halloween.

Put together a kimono, cornrows, and a war bonnet (and ill-fitting dockers). Say you're dressed as cultural appropriation.

By the time everyone decides whether its offensive or meta-offensive or what, the party will be over.
posted by Rangi at 9:09 AM on October 21, 2015 [80 favorites]


We all wear different cultures in our eyes, skin, and hair. It shows itself when we eat any food, when we make any food or listen to any music. My culture is going to be different than yours, no matter how many traits we share. Imitation of a specific person is an appropriation of their culture. The quality of the imitation depends on the depth of the appropriation.

The less and less specific what we imitate becomes, the closer it gets to generalization about a group of individuals with a lower and lower % of their culture that is shared between each other. The offense comes when you reach the point where what you assume they have in common and what they ACTUALLY have in common cross paths.

Balancing that with the importance of seeing another culture through their perspective is the key.
For me, there's a difference between appropriating someone's culture for a day for Halloween, and living another culture because you love it. I think the solution would be to encourage costumes that represent a specific cultural figure in an honorary way.

If I could, I'd wear an afro.
posted by shenkerism at 9:15 AM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Cultural appropriation is a squishy idea. It's somewhat hard to define, and falls under the same definition of that obscenity seems to-for most people, they "know" it when they see it.

The problem is that some of what is "appropriated" often intersects with other, less squishy problems of discrimination that really aren't arguable. The kimono protest is of this sort-most seem to think that it's a bridge too far re: appropriation as a concept; what seems to be missed though is that the kimono bit in America is more a symbol of oppressive othering of Asians, particularly women, because of its linkage to mistranslated concepts like geisha.

Do I think the protest was a mistake? Not exactly. I do think it was a little mistargeted and completely seems to have forgotten to reach out to actual Japanese and Japanese-Americans, but when it's considered that in America most people do not care and do not know to separate different ethnicities from each other, and the protest is speaking to an explicitly Asian-American issue...

But nuance is hard to come by these days.
posted by qcubed at 9:15 AM on October 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Well, there sort of is. Groups come to a loose consensus about the sort of stuff that can be appropriated and can't, and usually it has a lot to to with objects or expressions of special significance."

Eh, only if you treat those groups as monolithic which they're not.
posted by I-baLL at 9:19 AM on October 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


But nuance is hard to come by these days.

Fortunately, Ryan Wong has a lot of nuance to offer:

Anyone has the right to don a kimono, but people of the Asian diaspora have the right to interrogate what that means within a social context, weigh that against our lived experiences, and find it inappropriate.

...

When we walk into a museum or open our social media to see wealthy old white people putting on a kimono and smiling for a camera, it triggers a long history of memories [of appropriation.]

...

If anything, it is large arts institutions that act as cultural police by writing histories of our art, and deciding when and where and in what contexts art is shown.

###


Eh, only if you treat those groups as monolithic which they're not.

Not really. If enough people have an issue with something, as far as I am concerned, it is enough people. And, for me, that number doesn't have to be very large at all. It just takes one Native American to tell me not to wear a headband for me to stop doing it.
posted by maxsparber at 9:22 AM on October 21, 2015 [19 favorites]


Yet such a definition seems to assume the existence of mythical central organisations with absolute mandates to represent minority groups – a black HQ, an Asian bureau, a Jewish head office – from which permissions and authorisations can be sought.

This is the kind of attitude that leads people defending or engaging in racist things to pull out the #notall[culture] talking point and/or bring up a convenient Uncle Ruckus type, or worse just trot out someone engaging in full-on appropriation.

Eh, only if you treat those groups as monolithic which they're not.

Case in point.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:22 AM on October 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


Cultural appropriation by a dominant power group that suppresses nuances and enforces difference and otherness is fucked up. From what I understand, it is not cultural appropriation for Western values to be spread through enforcement of democracy, food, lifestyle values, and consumption, because it holds Western ideals as THE ideal. I think one must remember the context of cultural appropriation - who decides what parts of culture are okay to highlight, at the cost of dehumanization?
posted by yueliang at 9:24 AM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Chimaera sums this up for me quite nicely. What people who are baffled by objections to cultural appropriation fail to understand is the respect aspect. Like, it is one thing to don a traditional costume of another culture as an educational experience, to take part in a play, because you were invited to by other people in that culture, and numerous other examples. It is quite another to put on a fake afro and smear shoe polish on your face, and go to a Halloween party like that.

Are you lifting the trappings of another culture from a place of understanding its original meaning, and imbuing it with respect? Or are you playing dress up and goofing off on stereotypes? There is a world of difference between these two things. It's borderline willfully ignorant to act like we're all different inside, man, so really there is no culture if you really think about it.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 9:27 AM on October 21, 2015 [27 favorites]


Minstrel shows were extremely popular yet no one would do them now. The crucifix was appropriated by the believers in the new religion of Christianity and taken from the Roman use of a tool for execution.
posted by Postroad at 9:27 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, I don't know that crucifixion is really a good example, as Christians actually were crucified. It's not really appropriation if you take part in it, even unwillingly.
posted by maxsparber at 9:30 AM on October 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


Eh, only if you treat those groups as monolithic which they're not.

if i'm having a conversation with another asian person about how asian-american identity is a complicated thing to pin down, we can do this type of nuance. if a white person is 'splaining to me about how well actually Asian People Are Not All The Same in order to shut me up about cultural appropriation, that means precisely jack and oh yeah shit to me.
posted by twist my arm at 9:31 AM on October 21, 2015 [63 favorites]


Interestingly, I heard a Native American anti-mascot activist last week on this very issue. His point was that the teams are taking sacred symbols from initiatory roles and traditions, putting them on a sambo, and making millions of dollars on them.

Also, tribes would be more comfortable letting whites observe if observers treated the dances and clothing as liturgical works. Multiple groups shut down public ceremonies after observers started hosting their own ceremonies, charging fees for "authentic" ritual.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:34 AM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Not really. If enough people have an issue with something, as far as I am concerned, it is enough people. And, for me, that number doesn't have to be very large at all. It just takes one Native American to tell me not to wear a headband for me to stop doing it."

And if one Japanese person finds a white person wearing a kimono then they shouldn't wear it? Even though it's sold in tourist shops across Japan and was just normal Japanese clothing back in the day?
posted by I-baLL at 9:36 AM on October 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Why are people invoking the past to justify present norms? Minstrel shows? Kimonos as everyday wear? WTF are you on about?
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 9:37 AM on October 21, 2015 [17 favorites]


Ayup. Can you really not do without the kimono? Must everything in the world belong to white people?
posted by maxsparber at 9:37 AM on October 21, 2015 [19 favorites]


Must everything in the world belong to white people?

Well, they just feel bad when they're left out of something. It makes you feel bad, too. Mostly because then they come barging in with cannons and make you sign terribly unfair treaties.
posted by qcubed at 9:38 AM on October 21, 2015 [32 favorites]


Or are you playing dress up and goofing off on stereotypes?

I think the "playing dress up" part is really a big part of it too. It's the idea that people in power get to put on a costume of some sort, temporarily, and be trendy or cute or cool or whatever, whereas the people for whom the things they're putting on or using get criticized for the exact same thing. See, bindi wearing which can either be trendy or an excuse to call somebody a "dot head"; dreadlocks which make someone look cool or an excuse to deny somebody a job, etc, etc. I think the Culture not a Costume campaign really nicely illustrates this.

And I think he's wrong about the headdress example, because in many cases, American Indians have been denied the rights to their sacred symbols. There's actual harm going on- a kid had to go to court to get to wear an eagle feather at graduation. The American Indian Religious Freedom act wasn't passed until 1978 which means that generations of non-American Indian kids were able to run around in headdresses while actual American Indians faced barriers to practicing their rituals and religions.
posted by damayanti at 9:38 AM on October 21, 2015 [55 favorites]


Interestingly, I heard a Native American anti-mascot activist last week on this very issue. His point was that the teams are taking sacred symbols from initiatory roles and traditions, putting them on a sambo, and making millions of dollars on them.

There is a major obvious difference between "hey, white people like rap music too" and taking someone's sacred religious iconography that has a deep and specific spiritual meaning, and wearing it to Cocachella because it's, like, sooooo cool!
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:39 AM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


I should note that I have actually never been told not to wear a kimono at all. Just that there are some contexts -- like at a Japanese exhibit, or in a Gilbert and Sullivan musical, or as a Halloween costume -- where it comes across as yellowface. But plenty of white Americans wear kimonos to practice kendo, without complaint.
posted by maxsparber at 9:43 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Both the culture appropriation protesters and Iggy A. fall at the tail ends of the normal curve that is culture. It takes the extreme ends to "pull" the mean towards one or the other side.
posted by boredgargoyle at 9:44 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


From the last kimonos & cultural appropriation thread- “Of kimono and cultural appropriation,” Shaun O'Dwyer, The Japan Times, 04 August 2015

So now the kimono industry is trying to innovate, to diversify beyond the formal, conventional styles that had been its mainstay, and to seek out overseas markets, much as it has done in the past. There is a genuine conversation to be had among non-Japanese about how to help preserve and respect this industry, but as we shall see, it can go terribly wrong.

...

Author Manami Okazaki, whose book “Kimono Now” analyses modern kimono fashions, told me that her main worry was “that this (protest) will affect museums/ event organizers wanting to do kimono shows in the future, which is the last thing the industry needs.”


So to some degree, Japanese kimono manufacturers would love to have more white people wearing their wares, because it's a way to keep their industry alive. Of course, they probably care little about the racial experiences of Japanese-Americans, much less non-Japanese Asian-Americans, on the other side of the Pacific, wrt something as nebulous as cultural appropriation.

Ain't capitalism a grand and complicating thing?
posted by Apocryphon at 9:49 AM on October 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


Ayup. Can you really not do without the kimono? Must everything in the world belong to white people?

While I understand and wholeheartedly support this sentiment, I think things get muddier when you are talking about a place like the Americas which are full of people with ethnically diverse backgrounds. I've talked about my Chinese great-grandmother before - can I celebrate Chinese New Year without it being "yellowface"? I mean, technically I am "yellow". Except, no, I'm really not - I was not raised Chinese and knew nothing of my Chinese heritage growing up, and I never consider myself to be anything but white. Is it cultural appropriation if I have ONE Chinese ancestor, and the rest are all Scots-Irish and Polish?

All of which is to nth the idea that respect is key to experiencing a culture.
posted by chainsofreedom at 9:52 AM on October 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


It is true that cultural appropriation can hurt those whose traditions, religions and ways of life have been lifted, taken out of context and repackaged as a new aesthetic trend or exotic bauble. The feather headdress, for instance, has deep symbolic value to many Native Americans and to see it balancing on the wobbly head of a drunk, white festivalgoer might feel like an insult. Yet is it a theft at all, when that original value is still felt by the Native American tribe? Little of substance has been taken away. To the white reveller, those feathers probably signify something as simple as: “I am trying my best to have fun.” There is no offence intended.

It's so hard to read this article because the guy says one thing, then goes on to completely contradict what he just said. Like I read "It's true that cultural appropriation can hurt those whose traditions, religions and ways of life have been lifted, taken out of context and repackaged as a new aesthetic trend or exotic bauble" and I'm like "YES", then I get to "Little of substance has been taken away", and I'm thinking "WHAT HAPPENED TO WHAT YOU SAID THREE SENTENCES AGO".
posted by 23skidoo at 9:59 AM on October 21, 2015 [20 favorites]


Ain't capitalism a grand and complicating thing?
Trade as a carrier of culture is nothing new. I doubt the spice nations had a little group simmering about pepper being abused by European food.
Maybe cultural appropriation is just marketing gone wildly successful?
posted by boredgargoyle at 9:59 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Put together a kimono, cornrows, and a war bonnet (and ill-fitting dockers). Say you're dressed as cultural appropriation.

By the time everyone decides whether its offensive or meta-offensive or what, the party will be over.


I know this is kind of a derail but this is bizarre because I was literally trying to help talk someone out of this last night. It feels a lot like '~ironic~ racist joke' territory to me. Making a joke about tone deaf people but in the process you're still roping in the innocents who the tone deaf people are in actuality out there mocking. It's still ultimately having fun at the expense of marginalized groups.

Bystanders have no immediate way to determine if a) you think cultural appropriation as a concept is laughable or b) you think people who practice cultural appropriation is laughable. It is impossible to distinguish and thus bound to be offensive and the capacity for harm is immense. Pretty sure most people would tag it as some level of offensive pretty much immediately.

So for me as a costume-as-joke: no. As a costume-as-commentary: I'm not sure what value it would actually have unless all parties being exposed to it already fully understood the message, in which case, what's the point?

As for the article itself, rtha and maxsparber pretty much said what I wanted to.
posted by nogoodverybad at 10:00 AM on October 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


This is why I'm going to be Harry from DHMIS for Halloween.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:02 AM on October 21, 2015


Why are people invoking the past to justify present norms? Minstrel shows? Kimonos as everyday wear? WTF are you on about?

Uh, actually there is a sizeable, serious fandom of kimono wearers outside Japan and people do meetups ("kimono de jack") and all. There was a previous fandom of geisha and maiko kickstarted by Memoirs of a Geisha, but it grew in the 00s with the "kimono hime" trend of cool 1920s-style retro kimono with era-appropiate accessories (Western shoes, cloché hats, shawls). There's also the minority of Westerners who are heavily into tea ceremony or traditional music (shamisen, koto) where wearing kimono is a part of the discipline.
posted by sukeban at 10:02 AM on October 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


"Well, now I don't know what to do for halloween."
posted by tummy_rub at 10:57 AM on October 21

Wait - is it cultural appropriation when the monsters you dress up as are rich, old white men like Dick Cheney and Donald Trump?
posted by symbioid at 10:02 AM on October 21, 2015


I do like that baseball caps are somehow a unique expression of white culture.

They aren't. There really isn't a "white culture," as whiteness is a manufactured construct, designed specifically to lump a very wide range of people into a privileged category, and to keep people of color out.

But most white people do come from a specific cultural context. I used Jewish in my first example, because that's my cultural context, and, when evangelical churches have "Passovers" where they identify every element of the tradition Pesach as referring to Jesus and his life, you can bet your ass I think it's cultural appropriation.

I'm also Irish-American. Now, the Irish have been pretty democratic about their culture -- it is one of Ireland's primary exports, after all. But if you think St. Paddy's Day doesn't come and go without howls of complaint about "Irish car bomb" cocktails, you haven't been paying attention.

We all have things we think are special and should not be mocked or appropriated. But it really only seems to be when minorities do it that there is a complaint.
posted by maxsparber at 10:06 AM on October 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


What people who are baffled by objections to cultural appropriation fail to understand is the respect aspect.

Except when there's no real bafflement at all because the disrepect was on some level deliberate. Sometimes it's simply a matter of, "Your shit ain't so special because see how easily I can imitate it?" That was always the vibe I got with both Iggy A. and Rachel D.
posted by fuse theorem at 10:07 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I do like that baseball caps are somehow a unique expression of white culture.

They aren't. There really isn't a "white culture," as whiteness is a manufactured construct, designed specifically to lump a very wide range of people into a privileged category, and to keep people of color out.


Come to Europe, where baseball caps are una americanada (or the local equivalent).
posted by sukeban at 10:08 AM on October 21, 2015


Two things:
1) Reverse Racism is not a thing. (Aamer Rahman)

2) I'm an antiracism, social justice activist, and I don't always think cultural appropriation is bad because some of it is respectful borrowing. I think there are folks who can engage respectful with a culture or a cultural artifact or a cultural practice or a mythology not their own, and are doing it without being disrespectful. I think there are respectful borrowers who are not appropriative because they either "pay dues" by having invested a significant portion of their time into it and understanding and practicing some or most or all of the context that goes with whatever they're borrowing. I think these folks tend to be careful of how they profit from the borrowing and tend to give credit to the originators of the thing they're borrowing. And I think these kinds of borrowers are, by and large, good forces toward helping everyone learn more about disparate cultures, and creating a wider, more respectful, global village.

But I also think that there are disrespectful appropriators who do things that are clearly, to me, totally or partially disrespectful. I think these folks tend to gloss over important contextual aspects of what they're borrowing, to the source culture's detriment. These folks, trendy though they may be, tend to tear appropriated things from original cultures and give no credit and show no respect. Or care. Or compassion. And when confronted, they don't show any humility. And I don't think that helps our global village at all.
posted by kalessin at 10:08 AM on October 21, 2015 [26 favorites]


Come to Europe, where baseball caps are una americanada (or the local equivalent).

Hm. Baseball caps do seem to be an expression of American culture, I'll grant you that. But not one we we prize or consider so special as to not want appropriated.

I wonder if there is something uniquely American we would be offended by if somebody else did it. Maybe neocolonialism?
posted by maxsparber at 10:10 AM on October 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


@symbioid
/google "sexy donald trump costume" you will not be disappointed
Or you will be, I dunno. Sexy donald trump is improvement upon actual donald trump.

back on topic, there's also a difference between PoC spreading their own culture for profit and non-PoC appropriating PoC culture for profit, y/y? So traditional cloth dyers / kimono makers profiting from this is GREAT. (If Walmart starts selling it off the rack I'd riot.)

My MiL, when I met her years ago, had a room full of "oriental" knicknacks, silk embroidery and paintings and such. I was slightly disturbed when she spoke of loving "oriental" things, but still I'm glad some people were still buying this stuff.
posted by Sallysings at 10:10 AM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, sukeban, what you brings up just underlines my point about the difference between doing a thing from a place of informed respect and just playing dressup. So thanks?
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 10:11 AM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Iggy A's crime was her phenomenal commercial success in a very competitive commercial environment. She was not appropriating she was just making too much money. She's from OZ, if she accompanied in a didgeridoo she'd be appropriating.
posted by shnarg at 10:14 AM on October 21, 2015


Second time I'm posting this to mefi in one week. *sigh*

Required Reading:

Huffington Post: 4 'Reverse Racism' Myths That Need To Stop

Tim Wise: A Look at the Myth of Reverse Racism

Daily Kos: A Reminder: Reverse Racism is a Myth

Medium: The Myth of Reverse Racism. Exploring the falsity of an inverted system.

Feminspire: Why Reverse Racism Isn’t Real
"When somebody is talking about racism they have experienced, that conversation is not all about you, nor should you expect it to be, so stop with the derailing and just listen and learn.

When white people complain about experiencing reverse racism, what they’re really complaining about is losing out on or being denied their already existing privileges. And while it may feel bad to realize your privilege is crumbling and the things you’ve taken for granted can be taken away from you, it is unfair, untrue, and disingenuous to call that experience reverse racism."

posted by zarq at 10:15 AM on October 21, 2015 [35 favorites]


We all have things we think are special and should not be mocked or appropriated. But it really only seems to be when minorities do it that there is a complaint.

I think that on MeFi, of all places, it's good the understand the meta-issues underlying debates such as this. At the core, it's all about power. Minorities have been discriminated against in the U.S. for a long time, disenfranchised. Thus, when potentially sensitive events occur, there will be those who leap at the occasion to defend a previously disempowered minority.

At the same time, people have to realize that often it's not a clearly good vs. evil, strong vs. weak situation. This one wasn't, and people still got all offended and polarized anyway.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:16 AM on October 21, 2015


there will be those who leap at the occasion to defend a previously disempowered minority.

Which minority is now previously dis-empowered?
posted by maxsparber at 10:18 AM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


I have soooo much to say about this topic that I'm not going to get too deeply into it because there's no end to the discussion. I'm sitting here at work about to go into the 2nd of 2 presentations for museum guides to better understand cultural appropriation, from someone who's an authority on the topic. There are a lot of nuances and complexities to this topic, but I will say a couple quick things. One, literally no one is arguing that "NO ONE CAN BORROW/BE INFLUENCED BY ANYTHING EVER AGAIN!" That's a hyperbolic reduction that belongs with other "anti-PC" ranting. Yes, obviously people exchange cultural material and, as has already been pointed out, most of that is all right most of the time. Yet, every culture sets aside material that is not to be wantonly exchanged. For our American, largely white, affluent, older, middle-class volunteers, the thing that made this make sense to them was the Purple Heart. Everyone knows what the Purple Heart looks like. Can anyone wear a Purple Heart? Heavens no. We take that pretty seriously. It's for people wounded in battle. To wear one you haven't earned is pretty much fraud and insulting too. Okay, if you get that, you can understand the situation with a war bonnet, or a powerful cultural symbol of another type. That also brings home that it's not some marker of primitivism. We have powerful symbols, we have special ceremonial and occupational clothing (wedding dresses, police uniforms, doctors' coats), we have all kinds of valued expressions that we think deserve respect and should be used appropriately, in the appropriate context, by the appropriate people. Dominant culture folks tend to have a blindness to their own participation in these very human activities, so it does help create some empathy to reveal that.

Second, people have rightly pointed out that when groups object to appropriation it's not because they hate borrowing. It's because it is often used as a tool of oppression. If a group's material is being appropriated but that group can't really be thought to be oppressed within a given context (because appropriation is meaningless without context), it is probably not a problem. It's connected to power. When analyzing an approproation problem, ask yourself, where is the historical power expressed in this debate? Who has been and is now empowered, who has been and is now disempowered? Does the misuse of this material in any way perpetuate disempowerment?

Sclafadi has another mnemonic that's helpful: the three S's: Source, Sacred, and Similiarty. You can use this when you're trying to determine whether or not to borrow something with cultural significance. What's the source? Did you buy it from an artist who made it to sell in the marketplace, or buy it at an auction knowing it was probably looted? Does the designer or cultural group that created that motif, design, pattern, symbol profit by your purchase or use, or are you actually paying a corporation, person, or organization (example, Ralph Lauren) that did not originate the pattern/design, only took it and slapped it on one of their products? Does it come out of a serious/religious/ceremonial context that you're now trying to insert into another context? That overlaps with Sacred: is this symbol, idea, motif, garment something that belongs in a sacred context? We tell museum guides to think of "sacred" as meaning "important," because there are always plenty of people who challenge the idea that we should respect anything's sacredness in a secular society. Well, it's important. Finally, Similarity speaks to the idea that if you're borrowing a specific design or pattern or whatever, and all you do is just plain reproduce it with no creative elaboration or reenvisioning at all, you're not making a derivative work, you're just copying, basically.

Must white people own everything?

Seriously. It's like we just can't bear a single constraint undertaken out of respect. Reminds me of all the whining in the 80s about "But why can't I say the n-word if they can?!"

Here's a Resource Sheet that is pretty decent.
posted by Miko at 10:19 AM on October 21, 2015 [202 favorites]


Appropriation is Inclusion…Resistance is Futile…Don't Worry, Be Happy...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 10:21 AM on October 21, 2015


Required Reading:

Lovely, more semantic games about the definition of racism. No matter how many times people say it, racism does not mean power + prejudice solely. Attempts to say x doesn't exist when people are using the words, and they are being understood is bullshit language prescriptivism.

If you want to say that white people don't suffer under institutional racism, but pretending that's the only definition has lead to a whole bunch of arguments here on Metafilter.
posted by zabuni at 10:21 AM on October 21, 2015 [16 favorites]


I agree that "property" is a pretty useless metaphor to understand this issue with, but I haven't come up with anything better.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:24 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Which minority is now previously dis-empowered?

Well, to go back to maxsparber's post, Jews and Irish in America. The definition of whiteness and the majority shifting over time and all that.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:26 AM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Privilege exists in many forms. Incontrovertibly so.

The fact that so many members of the racial majority are apparently desperate to obfuscate (or outright deny) the role our privilege plays in racism and bigotry aimed toward minorities is sadly unsurprising.
posted by zarq at 10:26 AM on October 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


Further reading on the Native American/First Nations aspects of cultural appropriation.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:27 AM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Lovely, more semantic games about the definition of racism. No matter how many times people say it, racism does not mean power + prejudice solely.

You're right, but those links are required reading for people who think that racism is ONLY about being prejudiced, and completely discount the reality that institutional racism is SO much more of a problem than personal racism.

And that bleeds over into this conversation - some people understand that cultural appropriation is deeply connected to a history of majority groups imitating and distorting the meaning of certain aspects of minority culture (and the ways that that affects how majority cultures treat minority cultures), and other people are ignoring that definition and just think that cultural appropriation is any time a person incorporates things from different cultures into their life.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:34 AM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Miko:

"Reminds me of all the whining in the 80s about "But why can't I say the n-word if they can?!""

If only it had been restricted to the 80s...
posted by XtinaS at 10:35 AM on October 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


"culture, by its nature a communally forged ...project"
This statement is only true when we consider culture as a monolith. Yes, everyone everywhere has a culture and contributes to the vague idea of it. But to think that each individual culture is contributed to by others? Bullshit. Lemme know how many hours white slaves worked in order to help write hymnals. What chinese were serving war on american soil, which of them earned a war bonnet? Cultures, large in part thanks to white colonialism, have had to fight tooth and claw in order to survive over the years. When a white person appropriates these cultures, they are pulling bits and pieces out of ash and rubble to claim their own, from a fire that they started.

Culture cannot be freely shared between groups until every group is valued the same by society. Until it's true that all lives matter, you (white people, myself included) do not have the right to assume something for your identity while the others that pioneerd it are lambasted. See: Dreadlocks, Zendaya & Miley Cyrus.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:36 AM on October 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think this comment makes a lot of sense:

I really feel this w/regard to cultural exchange/appropriation of Desi culture in the West, and I honestly am really skeptical of online SJ’s narrative about cultural appropriation. I certainly believe that cultural appropriation is a real thing, and that the dynamics of power and privilege affect the way people interact with a culture. People can and do consume culture in ways that reinforce dehumanizing narratives.

But I think the ways in which online activism tends to talk about these things frames them in excessively black-and-white terms. Trying to preserve a culture in a glass case is destructive to the culture itself. In my (South Asian) experience, it tends to insist on preserving oppressive, excessively conservative and jingoistic versions of the culture. A lot of times the clumsy missteps people make in trying to understand a culture end up leading to real, deep and humanizing understanding. For example, I’ve known white scholars and pujaris who speak fluent Sanskrit, lead satsangs in English and know the Vedas and Puranas back to front.

More importantly, though, and those of us in Asian diasporas should really internalize this: The versions of our cultures that have armies of rigid gatekeepers are not the versions on the side of progress.

posted by Apocryphon at 10:37 AM on October 21, 2015 [26 favorites]


There's an inherent unevenness in a dominant culture's appropriation of a minority culture's symbols, dress, or other cultural expression. This is encapsulated in the Elvis example discussed in the article: Elvis was free to put on a "mask" of "black" music while leaving behind the cost wrought by prejudice of lower record sales for that music.

It's like a "Facts of Life" test - "you take the good, you leave the bad." I've also heard it expressed as "you take our culture without experiencing our pain." I could cornrow my white-girl hair without ever being forced to to risk or even contemplate Sandra Bland's fate. Rachel Deloziel pretended to be black and then dropped her "mask" when convenient for her (suing Howard U for discrimination against her as a white woman).

There is no equivalent in a minority culture's "appropriation" (if that's even a thing) of dominant, majority culture. Sometimes it's even required for survival.

It boggles my mind that so many feel entitled to make others feel bad in this manner, when it's not at all necessary. It's flaunting privilege.
posted by sallybrown at 10:38 AM on October 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


Iggy A's crime was her phenomenal commercial success in a very competitive commercial environment. She was not appropriating she was just making too much money.

Not sure if serious. So if she had made less money, what she was doing (basically mocking Black women and effecting some kind of weird AAVE-ish patois) would have been okay with people who were otherwise offended by her act? I can't speak for anyone else but I'm putting a checkmark in the "Nope, still wrong" box.
posted by fuse theorem at 10:38 AM on October 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Well, to go back to maxsparber's post, Jews and Irish in America. The definition of whiteness and the majority shifting over time and all that.

Speaking as a Jew -- still experience antisemitism. It's not as bad as it used to be, of course, but it may be a bit premature to declare Jewish disempowerment a thing of the past.
posted by maxsparber at 10:38 AM on October 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


For our American, largely white, affluent, older, middle-class volunteers, the thing that made this make sense to them was the Purple Heart. Everyone knows what the Purple Heart looks like. Can anyone wear a Purple Heart? Heavens no. We take that pretty seriously. It's for people wounded in battle.

Thank you, Miko. I have been searching for something that works as a parallel, and this is perfect.
posted by maxsparber at 10:41 AM on October 21, 2015 [21 favorites]


What about cultural appropriation as a path to freedom: Dalit Buddhist Movement

This is an example of people adopting a religion (and in a way, culture) as a means of escaping centuries of oppression.
posted by boredgargoyle at 10:44 AM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


One could ask the same of Christianity, which originally co-opted Judiasm to form theirs.
posted by zarq at 10:48 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I understand. The Dalit Buddhist movement revived an Indian religion in India, and Buddhism is already a religion that evangelizes in an attempt to find coverts. What appropriation as taking place?
posted by maxsparber at 10:48 AM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think, admittedly without reading about or knowing about the Dalit Buddhist Movement, that probably yes, using "cultural appropriation" as a means of escaping centuries of oppression is both OK and not at all what most of the people are talking about here as "cultural appropriation."
posted by Cookiebastard at 10:50 AM on October 21, 2015




Is there a history of Japanese people dressing like Shakespeare to make fun of white people, who are an oppressed cultural minority?

Since when have Japanese people been an oppressed cultural minority? Haven't they historically been the imperialist aggressors and oppressors, until WW2 mixed things up? (And obviously they rebounded from the ugliness of WW2 rather handsomely into a major world power again.)

I fully appreciate the idea of the evils of cultural appropriation when it comes to targets of actual oppression (Native and African-Americans etc.) but I don't see how westerners wearing kimonos would even approximate something like wearing war bonnets. If Japanese people can appropriate and repurpose tons of western cultural artifacts without anyone finding that problematic (western wedding dresses being conceptually the closest appropriated counterpart to kimonos, I suppose), why couldn't westerners do the same to them, seeing that the Japanese are not oppressed?

America obviously has some specific bad history with the Japanese that may factor into this, but America is not the (western) world, so I'd like to hear arguments about why, say, Germans or Romanians couldn't wear all the kimonos they want without any stigma of cultural appropriation.
posted by jklaiho at 10:51 AM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


By way of example (regarding cultural appropriation) I have two tales:
1) I am half Chinese (illegal immigrants from Taishan, a part of Guandong province, known for fishing, though my grandfather was primarily a cook who practiced Taoism - relevant in a couple sentences, bear with me) and half white (British, Welsh, Scot). I don't look Scots, but I wear Utilitkilts (one is leather - SO non-traditional) and drink stout and love the bagpipes and the games. Chinese stuff has to do with cooking and holidays/festivals. Also Taoism and Taoist martial arts, which I came to study on my own and only later discovered from a cousin that grandfather did too.

But please note that I do take some liberties and sometimes stray from tradition. For one thing, because there's no formal Hapa culture that isn't sort of globalist and very generalist - across all Asian cultures, I have to make it up as I go along. For another, as an arguably insider (though many pureblood Chinese are hella racist - within the Chinese cultural context, which can be very xenophobic, especially against halfbreeds - so not everyone agrees with my insider status), I have some leeway. I can take liberties. I was raised with a mix of enculturation (American white, British Isles and Chinese), so I mix and match in ways that feel right. For the most part I don't get messed with, because of that insider cred. And even though I do take liberties I generally try to remain respectful.

The twist here is that for me, I was raised with hardly any Chinese language. I know a few written and spoken words. Aside from very basic concepts like a few numbers and basic concepts, almost all of it is about food and festivals. So the stuff I learned about Chinese culture that my family didn't teach me, I had to learn by reading books written in English, generally by folks who were white. Fuschia Dunlop for cooking and Thomas Cleary and other translators for Taoism. So for me, some respectful borrowing/appropriation was indubitably good for me. Without it, I'd be less rich in Chinese traditions.

With respect to what white/British Isles culture exists, I also try to practice what I do respectfully (e.g. Christmas Crackers, cooking, and other small celebrations). But for me, American culture is the default because my family and relatives raised me assimilationist. The traditional ethnic stuff I do I chose to do, because it feels true to my roots and is comforting.

2) I also know a couple of Japanese traditions. Primarily origami and knife sharpening. Also a little Aikido and Iaido. Again there are examples of borrowing/appropriation here. Though I try to be respectful to the art forms and traditions, I mostly get my information about those traditions and expectations from white authors/creators within those forms.

For example in origami, I do the kind where there is no cutting. No glue. And you don't fold against a hard surface, but crease paper in the air, against your own fingers. Also you start with one square piece of paper. This is a pretty stringent starting point and method, but I like it. It's disciplined and I have 42 years of practice, so I'm good enough at it that I can do this style. But, while I know a few very traditional patterns in origami and have them memorized, one of my favorite patterns is by a British creator, John Montroll. His patterns are devious and elegant and I quite like their challenge. Also this particular pattern I'm thinking of is quite popular. It looks like a barb-tailed European dragon. I often make it while idling at parties and give the result to friends' kids. But I'm also happy to teach and review origami style and technique and when I do so I almost always do it with traditional patterns like the crane or the box or the lily.

Another example is the Japanese style of knife sharpening. I've been sharpening knives also for 40+ years (using European/American hand-sharpening techniques) but it's only in the past 3 or 4 years that I learned the Japanese style. I learned about it from a white lady who used to own a knife shop and she revolutionized my world (of knife sharpening) by bringing out a razor edge on a brand of knife I'd previously been unable to get beyond merely "sharp". After learning of the technique, I learned how to do it primarily from Murray Carter, an American smith who apprenticed with a 16th generation Yoshimoto blacksmith in Japan for 6 years. Without him I'm sure I would have learned elsewhere, but his videos and tutorials are quite accessible and useful. I try to practice this technique faithfully, using traditional materials and techniques, and I mostly just sharpen for myself and loved ones, but it's definitely a technique and style not of my culture, and I try to make that clear when I do it.

Please don't be using these examples to give carte blanche to all forms of borrowing or appropriation, but also know this is why I don't consider all of it to be bad.
posted by kalessin at 10:51 AM on October 21, 2015 [31 favorites]


Since when have Japanese people been an oppressed cultural minority?

Oh, gosh, where to start? Maybe wikipedia.
posted by maxsparber at 10:52 AM on October 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


Since when have Japanese people been an oppressed cultural minority?

That bit with the internment camps and anti-Asian racism in the USA, yeah.

Which doesn't really apply to those of us who aren't Americans, because the worst we Spaniards did to Japan was to send a bunch of priests.
posted by sukeban at 10:54 AM on October 21, 2015


Which doesn't really apply to those of us who aren't Americans, because the worst we did to Japan was to send a bunch of priests.

Well, let's note that the kimono thing was Japanese-Americans protesting an American museum.
posted by maxsparber at 10:56 AM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh, gosh, where to start? Maybe wikipedia.

Point taken, but I feel it's a bit condescending to consider them oppressed now, or even very recently. I think my comment still stands, even if the opening sentence was ill-considered.
posted by jklaiho at 10:56 AM on October 21, 2015


They were protesting a French painting (that now reads rather culturally insensitive at best), tho.
posted by sukeban at 10:57 AM on October 21, 2015


Um, we Asians experience oppression and prejudice even now. Not everyone considers us honorary whites.
posted by kalessin at 10:58 AM on October 21, 2015 [21 favorites]


Point taken, but I feel it's a bit condescending to consider them oppressed now, or even very recently.

I take Asian-Americans at their word that the do, in fact, experience anti-Asian sentiments on a regular basis in America. I don't think there is anything condescending to believe someone when they are discussing their own experience.

They were protesting a French painting (that now reads rather culturally insensitive at best), tho.

No, they were protesting an event where white patrons were invited to dress in kimonos as a social media promotion related to the painting.
posted by maxsparber at 11:00 AM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


I feel it's a bit condescending to consider them oppressed now, or even very recently

So what? Does that magically make it okay when Macklemore dresses up like a Haredi for laughs? Does that magically make it okay when white girls dress up as geisha for halloween? No. No it fucking doesn't. Furthermore even if one day we have an entirely Native American white house and congress, war bonnets are still not for you. "Well we're not actively harming them right now" is not the golden ticket excuse you think it is.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:00 AM on October 21, 2015 [51 favorites]


Point taken, but I feel it's a bit condescending to consider them oppressed now

Can you say that with utter certainty? If you don't think Asians are a minority that experiences prejudice, marginalization, and ridicule in the largely white mass media, I mean ... I dunno what to tell you.

It's not like people who say and do awful things to and about Asians are carding them and are like "Oh, you're Japanese? Well that was close, I was about to be racist to you."
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:00 AM on October 21, 2015 [14 favorites]


Um, we Asians experience oppression and prejudice even now. Not everyone considers us honorary whites.

I'm talking about the Japanese specifically. They're a world power with a long history of imperialism, and they're still unabashedly racist and xenophobic right now (whether or not that counts as oppression of the non-Japanese, I'm not qualified to say). As a non-American, I just don't feel like using kid gloves with them or extending some special protections to them is necessary; it feels condescending.
posted by jklaiho at 11:03 AM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


As an American refugee from Europe I see that sort of attitude leading down pretty shitty roads most of the time.
posted by griphus at 11:03 AM on October 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


I know a couple of Japanese folks with whom I share very strong views on this, but I can't speak as a Japanese person, so perhaps someone who is will come along and discuss it with you, jklaiho.
posted by kalessin at 11:04 AM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Can you say that with utter certainty? If you don't think Asians are a minority that experiences prejudice, marginalization, and ridicule in the largely white mass media, I mean ... I dunno what to tell you.

And they're racist to non-Japanese. That doesn't hurt us over here, but it might hurt them back in Japan. Likewise, I doubt that the average Japanese person in Japan feels oppressed by anybody.
posted by jklaiho at 11:05 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


As an American refugee from Europe I see that sort of attitude leading down pretty shitty roads most of the time.

"we haven't burned any of them alive in almost 100 years, they've got it easy!"
posted by poffin boffin at 11:05 AM on October 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


Buddhism in India was almost dead or very foreign by the time it was taken up by the Dalits.

As for appropriation, there are now Buddhist temples and ceremonies which are at best bad imitations of the Eastern practices. Simply stating that they are Buddhist doesn't make them "true" Buddhists. This is in a way congruent to Iggy A.'s marketing for gain.

I accept that this doesn't fall squarely in the way that cultural appropriation is being discussed here. However, for the people involved, changing the evening prayer is equivalent a new yorker donning a kimono.
posted by boredgargoyle at 11:05 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm talking about the Japanese specifically.

Perhaps that's the sticking point. We've been talking about Japanese-Americans.
posted by maxsparber at 11:07 AM on October 21, 2015


And they're racist to non-Japanese.

OK, are you serious with this? Like I'm aware Japan has a deeply racist and xenophobic culture. So it's OK to pretty much shit on the Japanese as a whole, wherever they may be in the world, divorced of all context from places where they were and are minorities? I don't think this is the best course of action here.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:07 AM on October 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


you guys do realize that jklaiho isn't talking about Japanese-Americans, right?
posted by I-baLL at 11:08 AM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


kalessin, feel free to MeMail me if you'd like to discuss this in private. I'm fully open to having my mind changed about this, but I'm not convinced by what I've read so far.
posted by jklaiho at 11:08 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I typically try to avoid wearing New Yorkers, whether they have a baseball cap on or not.
posted by maxsparber at 11:08 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


you guys do realize that jklaiho isn't talking about Japanese-Americans, right?

I am, and I don't think it matters. Crass and disrespectful cultural appropriation is ugly, even to cultures that have their share of problems. I would personally be really uncomfortable with putting myself in the position of Judge of Cultures It Is OK To Be Awful To.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:10 AM on October 21, 2015 [14 favorites]


I think that shitting on a people because of the way their government is acting is sort of a mutual destruction strategy. I have not seen any government in our world disport itself in a fully civilized manner constantly and consistently. If we're all to be doomed by our ethnic source governments or our governments for nations with which we have citizenship, then let's get to it. The non-human world would probably be glad to be rid of all of us.
posted by kalessin at 11:11 AM on October 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


Not dogs. Dogs would spend the rest of history staring at closed doors, waiting for us to come back.
posted by maxsparber at 11:12 AM on October 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


[Couple comments removed; jklaiho, this feels like a line of conversation that's going off the rails in a not-great way, please let it drop at this point.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:19 AM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


As a non-American, I just don't feel like using kid gloves with them or extending some special protections to them is necessary; it feels condescending.

Context matters. Seriously, it does. The protests being referred to are not about Japanese culture being appropriated in a vacuum, but rather the situation of Asian-Americans in America. We do see discrimination here, and that's also why it's phrased as Asian-American, not specifically Japanese-American or even Japanese.

I understand that in a global scope things change dramatically. There is reason for that. It is a different context. Just like there's much less conflict between South Koreans and South Africans doesn't mean that there's not conflict between Korean-Americans and African-Americans/Blacks in South-Central LA.

I don't understand why you're trying to conflate the two.
posted by qcubed at 11:21 AM on October 21, 2015 [14 favorites]


I think there's a pretty big disconnect in that white middle class Americans are kind of oblivious to the fact that they even have a culture. It's such a pervasive influence that it's all but invisible to people who are soaking in it. Try talking to suburban white people about their cultural markers and traditions and social norms, and a lot of them will actually get mad at you and angrily deny that they participate any such thing. That culture is just so normalized, increasingly not just in middle class white America, that people internalize it and often honestly believe that there is no such thing. All of their choices are made from pure utility and individual preferences. It makes 100% perfect, logical sense to grind up cow meat, sometimes from multiple different cows, form it into circular disk shapes, fry it on a grill or in a pan, then place it between two (three if you're fancy) slices of little individual loaves of soft bread with sweet and savory sauces and some vegetables. And to wear rough-textured short sleeve shirts that you pull on over your head but have a short row of buttons at the neck opening and floppy little collars that are almost entirely ornamental. Totally normal thing to wear. Not ridiculous or weird or full of social markers and cues and history. Normal clothing for normal people!

And that obliviousness is exacerbated by the very prevalent notion of the cultural melting pot. That was a huge thing when I was growing up, and it's given way a little bit to the notion of diversity, but you still see vestiges of it sometimes. A lot of white Americans were raised to believe that the goal of American society was that some day, we would all become a monoculture, with everyone settling on an average skin tone and having a culture that incorporated all kinds of traditions and rituals and cuisines. They literally used to make a melting pot doll when I was a kid that was supposed to represent some ideal all-race human. Of course, the problem was that with the invisibility of that white middle class culture, the utopian melting pot seems to be mostly that, but with fewer sunburns and more tacos.

Which, to my actual point, is why I think a lot of white people really don't have a fundamental understanding of culture. Because theirs is largely invisible to the point that they think it's the natural human state, and to the extent they do recognize elements of it, no, they actually want people to appropriate it, but that's coming from a pretty colonialist perspective, which is also an invisible privilege. You really only start to see consciousness of it on the fringes, where racist conservative types start to worry that some day, they will be minorities and they'll be subjected to Sharia law and maybe someday have to press TWO for English.

Anyways, I think that's partly why white people can have a hard time wrapping their heads around topics of appropriation. (At least, I think that's why I sometimes do.)
posted by ernielundquist at 11:21 AM on October 21, 2015 [41 favorites]


"Well, let's note that the kimono thing was Japanese-Americans protesting an American museum."

And Japanese-Americans counter protesting too.
posted by I-baLL at 11:22 AM on October 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


And hey, there was that black guy who defended the Confederate Flag. CheckMATE, SJWs.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:24 AM on October 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


"And hey, there was that black guy who defended the Confederate Flag. CheckMATE, SJWs."

Did you actually read the article?
posted by I-baLL at 11:26 AM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


I just read it. What is your point? I don't get what point you're trying to make.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:29 AM on October 21, 2015


I'm tired of people using outlying examples of apologia as somehow being on the same level of a broader social phenomenon. I see this same dynamic over and over again. Like someone always brings up their one Indian friend who is totally cool with white people in saris on Halloween, or that there were black people who believe the Confederate Flag isn't racist, or yeah, Japanese-American counterprotestors of Kimono Day. It's a dishonest way of muddying the waters in these discussions. We know there are apologists. They are outliers. It isn't the sick ice burn you think it is.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:29 AM on October 21, 2015 [27 favorites]


yes. it turns out, as you tried to point out before, ASIANS ARE DIFFERENT. what this means is that shit is complicated.

what this doesn't mean is that you pick the asians that agree with a stance you've already decided you're not backing away from no matter what and saying THEY'RE RIGHT. using them as props so you can NUH UH other asians is pretty fucking gross. gtf outta here with that shit.
posted by twist my arm at 11:30 AM on October 21, 2015 [19 favorites]


lord deliver me from the racial handwaving of white people
posted by poffin boffin at 11:31 AM on October 21, 2015 [27 favorites]


And to wear rough-textured short sleeve shirts that you pull on over your head but have a short row of buttons at the neck opening and floppy little collars that are almost entirely ornamental.

nonsense! you pop the collar to make yourself appear more threatening to predators
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:32 AM on October 21, 2015 [24 favorites]


using them as props so you can NUH UH other asians is pretty fucking gross.

Actually, there's a long cultural history of white people doing that in general. For instance.

We're also used as props so white people can feel better about the systemic oppression of other minorities. So, I mean.

Yay white culture? That's not something I plan on appropriating, unlike your burgers and basesball kepis.
posted by qcubed at 11:32 AM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


My point is the FPP article's point: That sometimes people cry "cultural appropriation" and "racism" when it's not the case. The kimono protest is a great example. And I think it's offensive to compare the Deputy Consul General of Japan in Boston, and the copresident of the Japanese American Citizens League’s New England chapter, and the organizer of Boston’s Japan Festival with "that black guy who defended the Confederate Flag."
posted by I-baLL at 11:32 AM on October 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


Well your offense is duly noted. I think it's offensive to use minorities who engage in apologia to defend your point. So I guess we're both offended!
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:34 AM on October 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


And Japanese-Americans counter protesting too.

At least one or two of the counter-protesters interviewed were born in Japan. The article gives a vague impression that the protest was Japanese-Americans and Caucasian-Americans on one side, and Japanese on the other. But without offering the birthplaces of people like Ara Mahar, it's impossible to tell.
posted by zarq at 11:36 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why you're trying to conflate the two.

I'm not. My comment was not targeted at the topic of those protests or the specific Japanese-American context at all, but rather things I've wondered about the back-and-forth appropriation between the West and Japan in general (long before this thread came into being). My skimming of the thread prior to posting was too cursory, and I did not realize I was coming at this from a different angle than the other commenters. My bad.
posted by jklaiho at 11:36 AM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


That sometimes people cry "cultural appropriation" and "racism" when it's not the case.

If some people think it's cultural appropriation, and other's don't, what about that means that the people who think it's cultural appropriation are wrong? I'm still not getting it. Why does the mere existence of disagreement mean that the people who think something isn't cultural appropriation are correct?
posted by 23skidoo at 11:37 AM on October 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


And I think it's offensive to compare the Deputy Consul General of Japan in Boston, and the copresident of the Japanese American Citizens League’s New England chapter, and the organizer of Boston’s Japan Festival with "that black guy who defended the Confederate Flag.

I would be, as a fellow Asian in North America, delighted to sit down with any of these people to discuss their viewpoints and to have a long, delightful talk on the complex and nuanced nature of Asian-American identity. I also think their arguments are totally valid, and that we can all agree that the issue of cultural appropriation is also complex and nuanced.

That doesn't mean I don't throw up when white people use these totally valid arguments and concerns to spew racist dogshit like sometimes people cry "cultural appropriation" and "racism" when it's not the case.
posted by Conspire at 11:37 AM on October 21, 2015 [27 favorites]


For instance.

I have seen this a bunch of times and it still makes my head reel back. Like this isn't any different from the kind of creative pseudoscientific examinations of Jewish physiognomy being made in Europe at the time, and earlier.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:38 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Did you actually read the article

I read it. Great quote from the article:

Those with concerns about the event would also like to see the kimono celebrated, she said, but in a “culturally affirming” way.

“This is part of the misunderstanding: We never said people who aren’t Japanese can’t wear a kimono,” said Loreto Ansaldo, 35, of Hyde Park, who helped organize the protest.

posted by maxsparber at 11:38 AM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


you guys do realize that jklaiho isn't talking about Japanese-Americans, right?

Yeah but that's sort of where I think you run into issues - I can accept that Japan is a worldwide cultural power and that certain power imbalances you run into with other groups don't exist to nearly the same extent. However I also feel like in the real world that barely matters - I mean how, practically speaking, would an American appropriate from Japanese culture in a way that wouldn't bump up against the very real history of racism and oppression? How wouldn't that read as offensive to Japanese-Americans?

Speaking as someone born in the states with Japanese parents I'd say that worldwide Japanese cultural power doesn't have a whole lot of relevance to my lived experience, and that fact rarely makes me feel better when I do run up against examples of cultural appropriation and oppression.

When I see instagram photos from people at that MFA exhibit I do feel othered and unwelcome in my own country and it brushes up against a lot of painful associations and experiences. And in addition to the regular shit that Asian people have to put up with, there are a few Japan-specific tropes have power in this country, and that still sting when I see them out in the world. (see: "lol Japan", "weird Japan" "deviant pornography", that recent Oneohtrixpointnever video, Japan as shorthand for alienating technological society) I don't think that this is something I'm being too sensitive about, it's there, it's real, and I see it all the time.

Happy to discuss more over memail if this is perpetuating a derail.
posted by taromsn at 11:39 AM on October 21, 2015 [19 favorites]


" I think it's offensive to use minorities who engage in apologia to defend your point. S

Like I said, my point is the same point as the FPP's article and that is: "That sometimes people cry "cultural appropriation" and "racism" when it's not the case."

I was pointing out that the kimono protest was a good example of that since calling an exhibit that was organized in part by the NHK (the Japanese broadcasting company) as being racist and culturally appropriatitive is weird.

Also,

"That doesn't mean I don't throw up when white people use these totally valid arguments and concerns to spew racist dogshit like sometimes people cry "cultural appropriation" and "racism" when it's not the case."

Are you saying that the FPP article is "racist dogshit"?
posted by I-baLL at 11:45 AM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yo, the fact that not all Japanese-Americans agree that the MFA's exhibit was inappropriate cultural appropriation does not conclusively establish that the people who thought the exhibit was inappropriate cultural appropriation were wrong or were making false claims of cultural appropriation or racism.
posted by burden at 11:49 AM on October 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


At least one or two of the counter-protesters interviewed were born in Japan. The article gives a vague impression that the protest was Japanese-Americans and Caucasian-Americans on one side, and Japanese on the other. But without offering the birthplaces of people like Ara Mahar, it's impossible to tell.

I don't mean to position it as Japanese on one side and Japanese-Americans on the other but if I recall the exhibition was actually sponsored by a Japanese company and previously hosted by several Japanese museums. As people pointed out in the original thread though the context is different for Japanese-Americans.
posted by atoxyl at 11:49 AM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


I was pointing out that the kimono protest was a good example of that since calling an exhibit that was organized in part by the NHK (the Japanese broadcasting company) as being racist and culturally appropriatitive is weird.

Look, NHK helping to set something up doesn't really make it any less appropriative to me. I don't exactly think of them as being an organization that's particularly sensitive to the issues of how cultural appropriation works, they're still as capable of being blundering and insensitive as any other large organization, and they don't really speak for me as a Japanese-American.
posted by taromsn at 11:50 AM on October 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was pointing out that the kimono protest was a good example of that since calling an exhibit that was organized in part by the NHK (the Japanese broadcasting company) as being racist and culturally appropriatitive is weird.

Unless you're Japanese American, I don't know that you're the arbitrator of what is appropriately normal to protest.
posted by maxsparber at 11:50 AM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Are you lifting the trappings of another culture from a place of understanding its original meaning, and imbuing it with respect? Or are you playing dress up and goofing off on stereotypes?

Goofing off of racial/cultural stereotypes is ALREADY wrong, even without the post-colonial-theory foundations of cultural appropriation taboos. Minstrel shows and Micky Rooney's character in Breakfast at Tiffany's aren't offensive simply because they are appropriating someone else's culture for their own use but because both reinforce cultural stereotypes to make their targets and object of mockery.

There is a very large subset of complaints about cultural appropriation that are about people learning the theory behind why cultural appropriation is wrong and simply applying it haphazardly (the MFA kimono incident and Salon's "I hate white belly dancers" article).
posted by deanc at 11:51 AM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


i'm waiting for the "in my family the word racist means something different" defense next tbh
posted by poffin boffin at 11:52 AM on October 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


Salon's "I hate white belly dancers" article
...but wasn't belly dancing created by the French as an Orientalist fantasy? (Or am I misremembering my Edward Said?)
posted by pxe2000 at 11:54 AM on October 21, 2015


You know, it's almost like something like this has lots of potentially valid viewpoints and can be viewed through multiple lenses of the Japanese, Japanese-American, and Asian-American experience.

You know what isn't cool? Telling those silly Asian-Americans they're wrong because this one Japanese guy said so.

Then again, another hallmark of white culture that I've had the privilege of experiencing is white people telling non-whites what they should and shouldn't find offensive, and when they find something offensive, why they're wrong.

I'm not gonna appropriate that either.
posted by qcubed at 11:54 AM on October 21, 2015 [31 favorites]


I ran into some confusion the other day when a Tumblr user posted that she found it appropriation that a character on Steven Universe who is not Japanese used a Japanese greeting. It was pretty clear the show was signaling "this character likes anime and/or manga" as that was consistent with her character. I barely even noticed it, but when a Japanese poster said it was appropriation I was suddenly out of my White Person depth.

I mean, English is full of borrowed words, but also full of racist history, but at the same time, how can adopting a word from another language be an act of appropriation? I know there are creepy/repulsive anime lovers, but this character is not like that.

Things like headdresses and various kinds of "-face" and Halloween costumes seem pretty straightforward to me, but this one, I don't know.
posted by emjaybee at 11:55 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean, maybe we can see the white backlash against social justice activism in part as a backlash against we activists being appropriative of the right to tell other people what we think and to sound directive about it.
posted by kalessin at 11:56 AM on October 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


Goofing off of racial/cultural stereotypes is ALREADY wrong, even without the post-colonial-theory foundations of cultural appropriation taboos. Minstrel shows and Micky Rooney's character in Breakfast at Tiffany's aren't offensive simply because they are appropriating someone else's culture for their own use but because both reinforce cultural stereotypes to make their targets and object of mockery.

Maybe to you and me it's "already wrong". To a lot of other people, it's "just having fun" or "being edgy" or whatever the hell. People continue using these excuses to handwave appropriation, so that's why this measure of the difference between informed respect and comedy/entertainment purposes was made.

Then again, another hallmark of white culture that I've had the privilege of experiencing is white people telling non-whites what they should and shouldn't find offensive, and when they find something offensive, why they're wrong.

And oh boy this. Even happens over here. Whenever someone voices a grievance on social media about some of the more jaw-dropping forms of cultural appropriation they've seen, that person will be met with a torrent of Icelanders lecturing visible minorities about why they are wrong and it isn't racism and they just need to lighten up or whatever.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:56 AM on October 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Are you saying that the FPP article is "racist dogshit"?

It's worth nothing that Yo Zushi is from the UK. His British birth culture and personal perspectives on American racism against people of Japanese descent, as well as of non-Asian-Americans appropriating Japanese culture, will no doubt be different than if he had been born in the US. Different contexts.
posted by zarq at 11:57 AM on October 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Haven't [the Japanese] historically been the imperialist aggressors and oppressors, until WW2 mixed things up?

Boy, you have to miss an awful lot of history to ask this question. With the exception of the Ryukyu Islands, the Japanese have stayed put on the four mainland islands and surrounding islands, with the exception of an expansionist period from the late 1800s to 1945. (cf Hokkaido)

Regarding the kimono (or much more often the case, yukata), you can't walk down a Kyoto street without seeing a kimono/yukata rental shop catering to tourists. No one in Japan bats an eye. Of course, the great majority of non-Japanese tourists wearing rental kimono/yukata these days are Han Chinese, but most cultural appropriation agitators won't say a word because they can't tell the difference even when it's right in front of their faces. (just like they can't tell the difference between a kimono and a yukata)
posted by Tanizaki at 11:59 AM on October 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Boy, you have to miss an awful lot of history to ask this question. With the exception of the Ryukyu Islands, the Japanese have stayed put on the four mainland islands and surrounding islands, with the exception of an expansionist period from the late 1800s to 1945.

Uh, this comes as a surprise to my Korean ancestors, who fought against them during the Imjin Wars of the 16th century. You know, when Hideyoshi sent many troops to invade and occupy Joseon, with the intent of reaching Ming China? During which his troops pillaged and plundered, captured artisans and murdered civilians?

Unless the Korean peninsula is part of a definition of the "mainland islands" that hasn't been legitimately held since 1945...
posted by qcubed at 12:00 PM on October 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


Regarding the kimono (or much more often the case, yukata), you can't walk down a Kyoto street without seeing a kimono/yukata rental shop catering to tourists. No one in Japan bats an eye. Of course, the great majority of non-Japanese tourists wearing rental kimono/yukata these days are Han Chinese, but most cultural appropriation agitators won't say a word because they can't tell the difference even when it's right in front of their faces. (just like they can't tell the difference between a kimono and a yukata)

Yeah, and I know a number of Japanese who think those shops are awful, but as far as I can tell we're not talking about Japanese cultural appropriation inside Japan.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 12:00 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Jewish people, for example, have a pretty consistent consensus that bagels are not a unique enough cultural expression to complain when McDonald's offers them, there was less consensus about the kabala craze

The line that's drawn here is about religion, leaving the food to seep into the rest of the culture. And I think the religion line is a fairly good one. No one has a problem with moccasin slippers, but dressing up in a headdress and doing a rain dance is offensive. Keeping a Buddha statue at home that you lay offerings in front of when you are not actually a Buddhist is sort of offensive as well.

(That said, the New York Bagel Union used to be really adamant that no bagels ever be made outside of its auspices)
posted by deanc at 12:00 PM on October 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm talking about the Japanese specifically.

It's more complicated than that.

China, the Philippines, Australia, and South Korea have all expressed anti-Japanese sentiment. Yes, Japan does have an imperialist history and was part of the Axis during WWII, but I don't think the actions of the government and military should be used as an excuse to harass modern Japanese folks that visit, work, and study overseas.

There is also a significant anti-Japanese sentiment in Peru. Japanese immigrated there in the 19th century and were usually basically used as hard labor. So Japanese Peruvians are usually treated as lower class and second class citizens there.
posted by FJT at 12:00 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's worth nothing that Yo Zushi is from the UK.

And he's a singer who performs American-style alt-country/folk rock/Tom Waits-style stuff, so he's invested in the idea of cultural collaboration, and could understandably be worried that exaggerated concerns about appropriation might make creative collaborations difficult.
posted by maxsparber at 12:01 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Are you saying that the FPP article is "racist dogshit"?

I respect the author's own personal experiences in drawing boundaries as an Asian in Western culture. I also respect the author's views on race, and view them as valuable in discussing the nuanced nature of Asian identity in Western cultures. Unfortunately, his extension of his experiences to others is indeed very racist, ignorant of power dynamics, and historical knowledge. For instance, in his argument that headdresses are appropriate, he claims that "Yet is it a theft at all, when that original value is still felt by the Native American tribe?" And this is something that really isn't true, given the way that these cultural symbols have historically been stripped away from Native Americans in the form of legislation, residential schools, and cultural diminishment. Furthermore, you cannot divorce his analysis from the social context of model minority, which rewards Asians for aligning with white supremacist status quos, and punishes those who don't. That already heavily informs who has a voice within Western media - and that's exactly the type of thing we're replicating here when we prioritize the voices of Asians who disagree with cultural appropriation over those who don't. That's why white people think it's okay to entirely dismiss the voices of the latter, and call the dismissal of cultural appropriation a decided issue when it really is not at all - as you have done here. I don't think it's inherently bad for Asians who disagree on cultural appropriation to voice their opinions, but I think it needs to be done cautiously especially when in the public forum keeping in mind these power dynamics.

So, this guy is Asian, and he already runs into problematic aspects of race like this by failing to be conscious enough of his own situational privileges. So you can pretty much extrapolate what I think about white dudes who have no lived experience in regards to race and no valid substance backing up their opinions about race, and who try to play a second-hand "race card" by pointing to a PoC whose opinions vaguely assemble theirs (most frequently, by running a steamroller over any nuance or disclaimers in their opinions), without even understanding this isn't even how racial discourse works.

You have no idea how PoC discuss race when we're along each other privately, and your attempts to gain a stake in that are hilariously misguided. Don't even try if you're white.
posted by Conspire at 12:01 PM on October 21, 2015 [31 favorites]


Like I said, my point is the same point as the FPP's article and that is: "That sometimes people cry "cultural appropriation" and "racism" when it's not the case."

Here's an analogy:

Group 1 at a party: Ughghhg, that French Onion dip is off. I think I'm getting sick from eating it.
Group 2 at a party: What are you talking about? I have no problem with the French Onion dip.
New Guy at party: Some people are saying that the French Onion dip is a "problem", when it's not the case.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:03 PM on October 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


Anyway it's not as if any particular person is the definitive arbiter of what is cultural appropriation but then [your name here] is definitely not the arbiter of what is not. So if you believe in what you're doing shut up and go back to doing it, or something.
posted by atoxyl at 12:05 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Uh, this comes as a surprise to my Korean ancestors, who fought against them during the Imjin Wars of the 16th century.

Which ended in a victory for the Chinese tributary, so I don't consider it as having been a part of a Japanese empire, in contrast with the 20th-century Japanese rule of Korea.

You know, when Hideyoshi

Who? Hideyoshi is a given name. This is like saying, "remember when Bill did that?"
posted by Tanizaki at 12:06 PM on October 21, 2015


So, the tricky thing is, 'Racism' IS culturally specific. It is expressed in extremely culturally specific ways.

So something that is not racist to Japanese in Japan, or Japanese in other countries, may be racist and culturally appropriative to Japanese who grew up in America, because of the HISTORY, the context in which it has been used.

We use the phrase 'dog whistle' to indicate a phrase that, on the surface, may appear to have a benign intent, but has a history of being used badly. You only know what it means, or conversely, not to use it, if you are familiar with it's history. Racism is FULL of dog whistles!

In the US, if the history of Kimono's is not one of mutual cultural exchange, but of people 'dressing up Japanese/Asian' at fancy dress parties, because 'clearly your culture is just a costume', then tada! We have the problematic history that makes this an issue.
The answer is basically: This is why we can't have anything nice. Because other people have wrecked it.
Not because there's anything inherently wrong with wearing a kimono.
posted by Elysum at 12:07 PM on October 21, 2015 [15 favorites]


Tanizaki: with the exception of an expansionist period from the late 1800s to 1945.

Well, they had 200 years of peace from 1635 until the mid-1800's, thanks to the Sakoku Edict of 1635. Prior to that they fought hundreds of years of civil wars, and wars with China.

The Hokkaido period was also a hell of a concerted attempt at expansion: Wars with China and Russia. War against (and annexation of Korea and Taiwan,) war against Manchuria and Vichy French Indochina, and then waging war WWII against the US, Dutch and British.
posted by zarq at 12:08 PM on October 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Prior to that they fought hundreds of years of civil wars, and wars with China.

The original comment to which I responded was about "imperialism", not "wars". HTH
posted by Tanizaki at 12:09 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


And, for a seperate post:
Although, there is one extra, teeny tiny issue, which I sometimes notice especially in 1st gen versus later generations, is that, well, second generation or more minority groups often experience cultural cringe?
You grow up in an environment where you are othered, and generally try to conform so you are othered less, and you move away from your parents culture, and you can also become embarrassed by things from that culture. You may choose to reclaim aspects of your cultural heritage and still feel conflicted. That feeling of discomfort can become hard to untangle from the discomfort of facing racism.
I am specifically thinking of talking to some girls whose families were from Northern India, who were saying how they didn't want to wear Saris (fair enough, formal dress!), or salwaar kameez, but then they were talking negatively about other indian girls who DID wear them, and especially negatively about people of European descent who might wear them, but - not because they thought it was racist (which would also be fair enough), but because they thought it was embarrassing that a westerner might want to wear Indian clothing when they didn't want to. They couldn't understand, because they didn't think it was very... 'modern'.
So, there's a lot of different issues to unpack there. Internalised othering, cultural cringe, versus cultural appropriation. So yeah, it's complicated, but especially the context of whether a cultural exchange is genuinely mutual and respectful.

[Edit: Revelent because it adds layers of difficulty when you get disagreements between immigrant generations over whether something is racist or not, and the older generation claims the younger generation is not 'proud enough' of their culture, etc]
posted by Elysum at 12:10 PM on October 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


Ah. :)
posted by zarq at 12:11 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Things like headdresses and various kinds of "-face" and Halloween costumes seem pretty straightforward to me, but this one, I don't know.

You know, it is ok to actually have an opinion that you believe and are comfortable telling someone else that it conflicts with their belief, rather than saying, "well, there are two sides, and I don't know."

And that's a big problem of many cultural appropriation claims: they're not disprovable. Within that framework of thought, there is no ability to say that something isn't appropriative or that a complainant is wrong.
posted by deanc at 12:11 PM on October 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


And that's a big problem of many cultural appropriation claims: they're not disprovable. Within that framework of thought, there is no ability to say that something isn't appropriative or that a complainant is wrong.

Is this what white people think? Because I can tell you right off the bat I can tell exactly what is culturally appropriative or not by assessing my own lived experiences in relation to it. White person walking down the street in traditional Chinese garb? Cool, the last time I tried that, I got told "go back to your own country" and "fresh off the boat". White dude spewing gratuitous Chinese everywhere? I didn't even get to learn my own language because it was given so little cultural value compared to English.

My lived experiences are unique and only have a fraction of the picture - I'm not going to experience the same type of cultural reappropriation that black people do, or even have the same experiences as other Asian people. That's why we compare and contrast experiences! And that's why we work together, as PoC, to piece together our own knowledge and frameworks on cultural appropriation, match and argue about our own experiences, so that we can each contribute our own puzzle pieces!

So when white people say this:

You know, it is ok to actually have an opinion that you believe and are comfortable telling someone else that it conflicts with their belief, rather than saying, "well, there are two sides, and I don't know."

It's okay to realize that your opinion has no value in assessing the validity of a claim because you simply don't have any framework or experiences to back that up, and to shut up and let PoC piece that together themselves.
posted by Conspire at 12:18 PM on October 21, 2015 [19 favorites]


[This should wander back away from an argument about the details of Japanese military history and towards anything resembling the actual topic.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:19 PM on October 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Which ended in a victory for the Chinese tributary, so I don't consider it as having been a part of a Japanese empire, in contrast with the 20th-century Japanese rule of Korea.

Right, but the whole idea was the take over Joseon so he could invade Ming China. If that's not vaguely imperialistic, I'm not sure what is.

Who? Hideyoshi is a given name. This is like saying, "remember when Bill did that?"

Couldn't remember his surname. Had to look it up. That Toyotomi guy.
posted by qcubed at 12:21 PM on October 21, 2015


i mean i know it's a huge derail but it is comforting to know that other people are also still mad about 16th century imperialism
posted by poffin boffin at 12:22 PM on October 21, 2015 [30 favorites]


All things considered, this was a good thread to be in, including on the unpopular side. Lots of good points and interesting insights, even if it did get a bit heated. My opinion on the topic is certainly more nuanced now, which is why I keep coming back here.
posted by jklaiho at 12:22 PM on October 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's okay to realize that your opinion has no value in assessing the validity of a claim because you simply don't have any framework or experiences to back that up, and to shut up and let PoC piece that together themselves.

By this metric, all of us who are participating in this thread who are not Asian should stop commenting. Is that what you mean to say?
posted by zarq at 12:23 PM on October 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


Is this what white people think?

Not this white person, but I've heard plenty of white people lament this supposed Phantom Racist Stamp coming down on them, leaving them forever branded as an enemy, helpless in the face of oppressive multiculturalism gone mad. So yes.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 12:24 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


By this metric all of us who are participating in this thread who are not Asian should stop commenting. Is that what you mean to say?

By this metric, all white people should stop pretending they're the grand arbiter judge who has the final say in conclusively deciding what is culturally appropriative or not. But that's merely a suggestion and not anything I have any power to reinforce, so maybe it would be nice if white people would stop throwing fragile tantrums over the mere suggestion they might not be entitled to do something.
posted by Conspire at 12:27 PM on October 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


Is this what white people think?

You've just written that westerners wearing Chinese clothes and speaking Chinese is terribly appropriative and offensive, so yeah, I have good reason to believe that. You can work out your issues on your own and express your opinion. I will take it into consider and decide for myself whether it is true or whether someone who doesn't know what he's talking about working out his personal identity and coming to terms with how to express and grapple with ideas and philosophical theories.
posted by deanc at 12:27 PM on October 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


By this metric all of us who are participating in this thread who are not Asian should stop commenting.

That's not at all what that means, come on. It means that it is worthwhile to consider that you don't have the lived experience, and probably not even the educational experience, to definitively identify whether something that happens to a culture other than your own is cultural appropriation.

And not only is that fair, it is obvious. And it's something people should be aware of when they comment.
posted by maxsparber at 12:29 PM on October 21, 2015 [20 favorites]


And that's a big problem of many cultural appropriation claims: they're not disprovable. Within that framework of thought, there is no ability to say that something isn't appropriative or that a complainant is wrong.

It's... not really the kind of thing you prove right or wrong though? I wouldn't wear a headdress because I know it pisses off Native people, that's kind of all there is to that.
posted by atoxyl at 12:30 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had no idea that saying "spirit animal" was offensive. When someone mentioned it, I have to admit that I resisted taking it out of my Metafilter profile until the third time I saw it asserted because I had a twinge of "really?" but I consider that my failing and resistance rather than lack of sufficient proof.
posted by zutalors! at 12:36 PM on October 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


I have a filter I run in Chrome that replaces every instance of "politically correct" and "political correctness" with "[treating people with kindness and respect]". I think a lot of this argument boils down to this. Are we treating people with kindness and respect? If not, back up and start again.
posted by kalessin at 12:38 PM on October 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


Well, appropriation isn't just an act, it's an idea that fits into a framework. There is a specific reason why running around in a native headdress is offensive such that it applies to that and not something else. And we just saw the same thing with the MFA Kimono Dispute where some Japanese people thought it was offensive and some other Japanese people did not, and he claim was, "don't use those latter Japanese people to justify your appropriative racism!"

You see this happen with extremist political and religious movements where someone takes a rule, and later on someone argues that true purity means adopting this new, stricter rule, and then the next guy says that, no, you REALLY have to adopt this stricter rule, and so on, and there's no framework to argue that, "no, this is a line you can draw, but you can't really go further than that because that is ridiculous."

In fact it kind of reminds me of a blog I used to read where one commenter being treated for various mental illnesses kept objecting every time a commenter or the bloghost used the word "crazy" as a pejorative because he found it offensive. The community took his thoughts on the matter into consideration and decided that they didn't really agree with him and kept going on as they did.
posted by deanc at 12:38 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


various mental illnesses

i give up. perhaps the articulate calm mefites could tackle this one.
posted by twist my arm at 12:42 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


You see this happen with extremist political and religious movements where someone takes a rule, and later on someone argues that true purity means adopting this new, stricter rules, and then the next guy says that, no, you REALLY have to adopt this stricter rule, and so on, and there's no framework to argue that, "no, this is a line you can draw, but you can't really go further than that because that is ridiculous."

I don't think comparing people who want to have an honest discussion about cultural appropriation and happen to disagree that it isn't a disprovable thing to "extreme political and religious movements" is at all helpful.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 12:43 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


i give up. perhaps the articulate calm mefites could tackle this one.

I didn't mean that metaphorically. I meant that he said, "I have these specific mental illnesses and find the term 'crazy' used as a pejorative to be offensive."

And I am not saying I didn't understand his point, but it was considered and discarded.
posted by deanc at 12:44 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]



All things considered, this was a good thread to be in, including on the unpopular side. Lots of good points and interesting insights, even if it did get a bit heated. My opinion on the topic is certainly more nuanced now, which is why I keep coming back here.


!!! Yay! (not sarcasm). I'm honestly so glad to see this. For me the appropriation thing is quite personal and speaks to something I've understood as *wrong* in a way my entire life, and the recent online focus just gives that wrongness a language and structure. So people just want to communicate in that language, but the whole thing gets so bogged down in who's allowed to do what.
posted by zutalors! at 12:45 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


You see this happen with extremist political and religious movements

I would argue that what we're actually seeing is a lot of people whose experiences have been ignored and minimized have finally found mechanisms, often through the web, to articulate that there are things that hurt them, have always hurt them, hurt them for specific reasons, and maybe we might finally listen to them?

Instead, what they get back is this endless parade of white people, or men, or straight people, or whatever the dominant group in question is, and their response is "no, we still don't care," although they phrase it as "these are extremists," or "suddenly everybody is so sensitive" or "it's just a joke" or "I know an Indian and he doesn't mind," or any of the infinite excuses we make to continue to be shitty to somebody just because we don't care enough not to.
posted by maxsparber at 12:45 PM on October 21, 2015 [30 favorites]


In fact it kind of reminds me of a blog I used to read where one commenter being treated for various mental illnesses kept objecting every time a commenter or the bloghost used the word "crazy" as a pejorative because he found it offensive. The community took his thoughts on the matter into consideration and decided that they didn't really agree with him and kept going on as they did.

That kind of sums up the whole problem. When Person A has a problem with [something] because it directly affects them, and People B - Z who are not directly affected by [something] feel their Opinions! are Just As Important! as the people who are directly affected, that's a big old problem.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:47 PM on October 21, 2015 [25 favorites]


I don't think comparing people who want to have an honest discussion about cultural appropriation and happen to disagree that it isn't a disprovable

I wouldn't call the discussion dishonest so much as unhelpful. I mean, it is not about having an "honest discussion," it's about someone making a claim that relies on the individual's personal feelings. And ultimately, there is no response to that beyond, "ok, in the interest of friendship and social accord, I will not do XYZ in front of you," but it is impossible to make any larger intellectual/cultural point beyond that.
posted by deanc at 12:51 PM on October 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


So what these people in this forum you are talking are saying is 'we see the issue, but we don't feel like making our lives harder in order to fix it'. What you have to bear in mind (and this holds true for all these sorts of issues) is that they are saying it to a person whose entire life has been harder in a way that isn't optional for them.

So you can see why they might be frustrated!
posted by selfnoise at 12:51 PM on October 21, 2015 [16 favorites]


When Person A has a problem with [something] because it directly affects them, when People B - Z who are not directly affected by [something] feel their Opinions! are Just As Important! as the people who are directly affected, that's a big old problem.

Especially because when people B-Z are part of a privileged majority, which is pretty much always the case, they are wholly unfamiliar with being told that their opinion is unimportant. It's something that maybe they've never heard before in their entire lives, and they don't know how to deal with it.

for some reason they then yell slurs to prove it's okay or something, idk
posted by poffin boffin at 12:53 PM on October 21, 2015 [23 favorites]


I wouldn't call the discussion dishonest so much as unhelpful. I mean, it is not about having an "honest discussion," it's about someone making a claim that relies on the individual's personal feelings. And ultimately, there is no response to that beyond, "ok, in the interest of friendship and social accord, I will not do XYZ in front of you," but it is impossible to make any larger intellectual/cultural point beyond that.

To be less flip: maybe it's helpful to consider that if you find yourself ready to lecture people on how the oppression they experience isn't real, or isn't THAT bad, or is an unfair accusation that the poor status quo is defenseless against disproving, or any other kind of diminishing tactic, consider instead either, like, taking their word for it when they tell you how they feel, or at least have some level of respect for your fellow human beings and don't continue doing things you know hurt them.

I mean if you're coming from a place where your use of a word, or a costume, or a prop is so much more important than not adding to the everyday oppression other people experience, for some vague intellectual reasons, I'd argue that making "intellectual points" is valueless. OF COURSE it's about how someone feels. We're not robots. How people feel is a tremendous part of how we treat other people. Spocking our way through this is just not how people work.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 12:55 PM on October 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


So you can see why they might be frustrated!

Well, as I like to say, life is nothing but an endless series of hardships and difficulties that never end until we die.

Once again, even if persons within B-Z have some cultural overlap with person A, the reply is, "don't use that other person who disagrees with me to justify yourself!"

People have feelings. I am perfectly willing to take that individual's feelings into consideration on an individual basis, but I'm generally unwilling to think that it creates a larger cultural framework beyond, "respect an individual's boundaries when dealing with them personally." And sometimes the social norm isn't going to bend for the individual, and that's a thing that happens! People are allowed to work out their own issues and boundaries for themselves, but it's a stretch to claim it has a larger social/cultural significance.
posted by deanc at 12:59 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I mean, it is not about having an "honest discussion," it's about someone making a claim that relies on the individual's personal feelings.

Office Person 1: Holy crap, I have a serious migraine today. Can we turn down the lights?
Office Person 2: How do I know you really have a migraine? I mean, doesn't your claim rely on your personal feelings? Let me go poll the office to see if you have a migraine before I turn down the lights. That'll give us better information than just your own personal feeling about whether you have a migraine or not.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:59 PM on October 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


My own personal heuristic in considering what to do in cases like this includes the following:

1) Testimony by members of affected groups saying that something is offensive and/or hurtful counts for a lot more than reasoning by analogy or using other "disinterested" methods of analysis;

2) Near-consensus among members of an affected group that something is offensive and/or hurtful counts for a hell of a lot, even if some members (or self-proclaimed members) of that group say that the thing is not offensive and/or hurtful;

3) Better to be on the safe side of not doing something that is offensive and/or hurtful, particularly if choosing not to do that thing doesn't make my life appreciably worse;

4) If I choose to do a thing despite someone telling me that it's offensive and/or hurtful to them, I have to own that I have caused offense and/or hurt to that person; I don't get to tell them that they are wrong to feel that way.

I'm sure this is incomplete and imperfect in many ways, but I feel like I still get to experience a lot of great things and I don't feel like I'm on a slippery slope to joining a cult or having my freedom taken away or anything like that.
posted by burden at 1:00 PM on October 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


People are allowed to work out their own issues and boundaries for themselves, but it's a stretch to claim it has a larger social/cultural significance.

Unless all these individuals happen to belong to a particular minority, and this one isolated instance of overstepping boundaries against them isn't one and isn't isolated, but is something they've experienced many, many times (e.g. hearing the use of "crazy"), which is itself a reflection of the status quo's attitudes and perceptions of said minority, which are in turn baked in to how societal frameworks treat said minorities. Then it's not so much of a stretch.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:02 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Office Person 2: It's ok to take a sick day. If it's serious and you need to finish up some things in the office, I will turn down the lights for a couple of hours. But most of us don't want eye strain, so we can't keep the lights low all the time in the building because someone, somewhere, might have or might develop a migraine.
posted by deanc at 1:02 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


As a multi-racial person raised in a western culture that was very often hostile, divorced from my own racial roots, and surrounded by white people and PoC alike, I've come to the quite unpopular conclusion that having a culture for people to appropriate is itself a form of deep privilege. Shakespeare and baseball caps aren't part of any culture I feel kin to, and from my perspective there isn't a big difference between my choosing to dress like Hamlet for halloween or to dress like a character from one of the Kabuki plays of Chikamatsu Monzaemon.

I for sure understand the problems that the dilution of cultural symbols through appropriation cause, as well as the issues with borrowing revered and sacred clothing or decorations (wearing unearned medals is a crime but wearing an unearned headdress is just another Friday at The Roxy), but I can't shake off the vague envy I have of people fortunate enough to have a culture that other people want to appropriate, that binds them to their neighbours, that gives them art and literature handed down for centuries that they can look at and see themselves and their families in, stories of how they came to be where they are today.

And I know how angry people are at seeing that art and literature and culture become whitewashed into nothingness. But man, what I would give to have any of those stories and symbols so powerful that people from all corners of the globe want to make it their own.
posted by Jairus at 1:04 PM on October 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


Office Person 2: It's ok to take a sick day. If it's serious and you need to finish up some things in the office, I will turn down the lights for a couple of hours. But most of us don't want eye strain, so we can't keep the lights low all the time in the building because someone, somewhere, might have or might develop a migraine.

Office Person 1: I never said I wanted to keep the lights low all the time, and it's kind of shitty to imply that. It's not that I might have a migraine, it's not that I might develop a migraine, it's that I have a migraine. Right now. The least you could do is acknowledge that.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:07 PM on October 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


"don't use that other person who disagrees with me to justify yourself!"

repeated for emphasis: You have no idea how PoC discuss race when we're along each other privately, and your attempts to gain a stake in that are hilariously misguided. Don't even try if you're white.

you could maybe step back a bit and not make the entire conversation about what you're graciously willing to extend to individuals and deciding what is and is not a larger cultural issue.
posted by twist my arm at 1:08 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


are the office people still an analogy at this point?
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:09 PM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


i have a migraine now, does that count
posted by poffin boffin at 1:10 PM on October 21, 2015 [21 favorites]


I think it's some kind of role-playing thing. There may be hand puppets somewhere.
posted by Grangousier at 1:12 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hahaha, okay, no more analogies. Straightforwardly, I think that people affected by racism and cultural appropriation have more skin in the game than people who aren't, and their opinions about it should be taken seriously. The fact that not all Japanese-Americans are going to agree about kimono-wearing doesn't mean that non-Japanese-Americans should go "See, there's disagreement!" as if that means that it's not something to take seriously.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:15 PM on October 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


@deanc It's definitely true that cultural appropriation is a phrase in a framework with a specific meaning and that it has its power through its usefulness as a tool in critical analysis. It may even be true that I haven't been perfectly rigorous about what is and isn't "cultural appropriation," that I misidentified the shittiness I've experienced as being X when it was really a case of Y.

However to say that because my or other peoples' experience doesn't meet the criteria for cultural appropriation, it's just "personal opinion" and can be dismissed seems wrong to me. Instead of ignoring peoples' personal experiences maybe the most worthwhile thing is to either step back or to say "hmm these people of an oppressed group seem to be pretty upset on the grounds of their group status, I'm not sure it's cultural appropriation, but let's think about how it fits into a different critical concept or framework." Because I guarantee that they're not making stuff up, that they're way more sensitive to these issues, and that the very fact that they're referring to a group identity pushes this beyond mere "personal opinion"
posted by taromsn at 1:16 PM on October 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


I wear my nón lá for practically.
posted by clavdivs at 1:20 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


People have all sorts of boundaries. The best one can do is simply agree to respect their personal boundaries when dealing with them. But personal boundaries are just that: personal. "Don't bring your children to my party because I don't want children in my house" is a personal boundary I am willing to respect if I want to go to my friend's party. "Parties should not have children in deference to those who do not want to be around children" is something that we aren't obligated to respect.

"This offends and bothers me" is a lot different that "This is offensive/bothersome."

I am willing to give carte blanche to anyone claiming that appropriation of religious practices is offensive, though my bias is from the fact that I myself am religious. Anything else I am very skeptical of.
posted by deanc at 1:21 PM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


I am willing to give carte blanche to anyone claiming that appropriation of religious practices is offensive, though my bias is from the fact that I myself am religious. Anything else I am very skeptical of.

In other words, you'll only give that credence because it could potentially affect you.

Color me surprised.

Oh, wait, I already have color.
posted by qcubed at 1:23 PM on October 21, 2015 [28 favorites]


Deanc, respectfully, you seem to be making this thread about yourself in a way that I am finding a bit puzzling.
posted by selfnoise at 1:24 PM on October 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


The argument that imitation is a sincere form of flattery and therefore cultural appropriation is a-OK? Not cool. Just not cool.
posted by kalessin at 1:25 PM on October 21, 2015


"please don't do racist things" isn't a personal boundary. it's a normal expectation of living in society.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:25 PM on October 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


I live in the same society a black or Asian person lives in, I interact with them, and the social consensus on what constitutes impermissible appropriation or rudeness or insensitivity affects me as well as them. So I get to have an opinion on it and contribute to that consensus, sorry.

Fundamentally nobody ever shares the view of another person fully. You can keep slicing otherness up until we're all in our own boxes. At some point there's a broader human experience to appeal to or dialogue becomes impossible.
posted by zipadee at 1:26 PM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


I am willing to give carte blanche to anyone claiming that appropriation of religious practices is offensive, though my bias is from the fact that I myself am religious. Anything else I am very skeptical of

Let me suggest that offense at racial and cultural appropriation is not some one-off "personal" deal, which I think is both dismissive and willfully ignores whole swaths of oppression. But your admission that the only appropriation you are not skeptical of is that which effects you pretty much illustrates the problem with this brand of denialism.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:27 PM on October 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


i mean really these constant circular arguments about how it's actually totally okay to be a little bit racist sometimes because really who cares in the greater scheme of things if you're white, they actually make me want to say "ok really just go ahead and be racist because i've expended too much energy in making you see reason and IM TIRED goddammit" but UGH i know that's the actual POINT of these constant circular arguments so like

can u not

for reals
posted by poffin boffin at 1:28 PM on October 21, 2015 [15 favorites]


I live in the same society a black or Asian person lives in, I interact with them, and the social consensus on what constitutes impermissible appropriation or rudeness or insensitivity affects me as well as them. So I get to have an opinion on it and contribute to that consensus, sorry.

You're not sorry.
posted by griphus at 1:28 PM on October 21, 2015 [30 favorites]


I am willing to give carte blanche to anyone claiming that appropriation of religious practices is offensive, though my bias is from the fact that I myself am religious. Anything else I am very skeptical of.

Oh, I think you lost me on this one. Why the special exception for your sacred cow? This really weakens your argument, because you demonstrate that you only empathize with stuff you personally relate to.
posted by Edgewise at 1:29 PM on October 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


Unless you're Japanese American, I don't know that you're the arbitrator of what is appropriately normal to protest.

Well, the funny thing is, there were a lot of non-Japanese-American protestors at the protest! That's what's so crazy about this!
posted by Apocryphon at 1:30 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, the funny thing is, there were a lot of non-Japanese-American protestors at the protest! That's what's so crazy about this!

[muffled immigrant song screaming in the distance]
posted by poffin boffin at 1:31 PM on October 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


I live in the same society a black or Asian person lives in, I interact with them, and the social consensus on what constitutes impermissible appropriation or rudeness or insensitivity affects me as well as them. So I get to have an opinion on it and contribute to that consensus, sorry.

Yes, the way it affects you is that it makes you mildly uncomfortable. The way it affects us is that it gets us shot and locked out of social institutions. So weighing that accordingly, your opinion gets to contribute a millionth to this "consensus" you're speaking of compared to ours.

Not fair to you? Well, neither is racism.
posted by Conspire at 1:32 PM on October 21, 2015 [18 favorites]


But I think there's a distinction here between purely personal claims like your parties-and-children example and the claims that myself and others in this thread have been making.

Their claims aren't just that "this bothers me", but that "this bothers me on the basis of my group status"; it's not merely a claim about personal preference based on random individual whim, it's a political claim which implicate and involve necessarily other people.

Not sure if I'm doing the best job, but I think there's definitely a sense in which claims about racism or cultural appropriation differ in kind from 'mere' personal opinion
posted by taromsn at 1:33 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I live in the same society a black or Asian person lives in, I interact with them, and the social consensus on what constitutes impermissible appropriation or rudeness or insensitivity affects me as well as them. So I get to have an opinion on it and contribute to that consensus, sorry.

I live in the same society as a lot of white people, and having interacted with them, and learned what the social consensus is when it comes to what is permissible and not when it comes to rudeness and insenstivity?

Well, let's just say that what's on display here throughout the thread suggests to me that the majority, which tends not to look like me, which tends to view me as a perpetual outsider? My opinion is unwelcome.

You hear that enough times, and you stop wanting to contribute.

You stop wanting to contribute, then, well. It's not like most white people are really interested in diversity, anyway.
posted by qcubed at 1:34 PM on October 21, 2015 [14 favorites]


> I live in the same society a black or Asian person lives in,

Do you? You think you do. I bet you don't. Are you asked a lot where you're really from? Do people assume you got your college admission/job because of affirmative action? Do people congratulate you on being a particularly articulate member of and credit to your race? Assume you're really good at math? Ask you what reservation you grew up on? Congratulate you on speaking English so well?
posted by rtha at 1:44 PM on October 21, 2015 [47 favorites]


I live in the same society a black or Asian person lives in, I interact with them, and the social consensus on what constitutes impermissible appropriation or rudeness or insensitivity affects me as well as them. So I get to have an opinion on it and contribute to that consensus, sorry.

It is that White Privilege Ultra "I have to deal with you and therefore get to decide what does or doesn't hurt you" attitude that people have been pushing back against in this very thread

"Interacting" with me is not a golden ticket to stomping all over my culture.
posted by Ashen at 1:46 PM on October 21, 2015 [20 favorites]


Pro Tip: If you are not part of the culture being appropriated, your opinion on whether or not said appropriation is hurtful is worthless. Q.E.D.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:50 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I live in the same society a black or Asian person lives in, I interact with them, and the social consensus on what constitutes impermissible appropriation or rudeness or insensitivity affects me as well as them. So I get to have an opinion on it and contribute to that consensus, sorry.

I think this is phrased terribly insensitively, but there's an undeniable truth to it in the sense that you can't have a discussion about what person X is allowed to do without inviting person X, unless you don't really care if person X complies with your wishes.

I mention this because there are a couple of commenters who keep mentioning that white opinions are not relevant. I'm specifically addressing these comments. Whether they are right or wrong (and they're right to at least an extent), I'm just saying that's fine, but you can't really expect a broad adherence to whatever consensus emerges from such a discussion.

IMHO, we won't substantially improve things without genuine dialog. Even if white culture is where the changes need to happen, this won't occur because of PoC talking among themselves, proclaiming to white people what they should actually be doing. It just won't, and that should be obvious. I'm not talking about right and wrong, I'm talking about being effective.
posted by Edgewise at 1:51 PM on October 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm not talking about right and wrong, I'm talking about being effective.

So, like, are you telling us what to do? Again? Like your kind so frequently has done in the past?

We'll get right on it.
posted by qcubed at 1:53 PM on October 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


but you can't really expect a broad adherence to whatever consensus emerges from such a discussion.

don't worry, we're a long way off from ever having broad adherence to not being racist about stuff even when people specifically ask you not to
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:53 PM on October 21, 2015 [16 favorites]


It just won't, and that should be obvious. I'm not talking about right and wrong, I'm talking about being effective.

Fighting for a single maxim that should generally be followed (LISTEN TO PEOPLE WHO THEY SAY THEIR CULTURE IS BEING APPROPRIATED) is a lot more efficient than re-litigating every nauseating detail each time it comes up.
posted by joyceanmachine at 1:59 PM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Fighting for a single maxim that should generally be followed (LISTEN TO PEOPLE WHO THEY SAY THEIR CULTURE IS BEING APPROPRIATED) is a lot more efficient than re-litigating every nauseating detail each time it comes up.

Only if you care about it, if you just want to have freedom from the hordes of PC police about to jail you for thinking wrong thoughts (or the freedom to be a racist asshole, however you want to word it), it's much more efficient to fight every time because most people will give up, proving that they actually didn't care about cultural appropriation.
posted by jeather at 2:03 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


So, like, are you telling us what to do?

No
posted by Edgewise at 2:05 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


IMHO, we won't substantially improve things without genuine dialog. Even if white culture is where the changes need to happen, this won't occur because of PoC talking among themselves, proclaiming to white people what they should actually be doing. It just won't, and that should be obvious.

Why does it have to be POC talking amongst themselves? Why can't it be POC talking TO/ABOUT white people, and white people listening to what POC have to say?
posted by 23skidoo at 2:06 PM on October 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


Why can't it be POC talking TO/ABOUT white people, and white people listening to what POC have to say?

It can, although I suspect those listeners are already on the same page if they are truly listening. I think the trick is getting people to listen.
posted by Edgewise at 2:10 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


No, it's really on the white people who "get it" to do the actual work of challenging racism and imperialist thought among their peer group. It is not the primary task of POC.
posted by Ashen at 2:14 PM on October 21, 2015 [17 favorites]


By this metric, all white people should stop pretending they're the grand arbiter judge who has the final say in conclusively deciding what is culturally appropriative or not.

Yea, literally no one is doing this.

I really wish I had the historical/anthropological background to know whether the concept of cultural appropriation as a distinctly negative thing in the context of other hegemonies (Roman, Japanese, etc.) existed prior to modernity, or if it's something unique to our age.

With regard to the ethics of giving and taking offense, I'm pretty much over it. It's clear that the ugly thumbwar over who has the moral right to offend or not offend and on what grounds is a proxy battle over a historical lack of empowerment among marginalized groups in other areas, many toward which I am deeply sympathetic. But I think the whole thing has gone off the rails in an unseemly and unhealthy way. All these petty skirmishes to circumscribe and consolidate claims to moral authority just to have or express an opinion? Fucking good luck with that. I'll be over in the corner with the conscientious objectors doing something else.
posted by echocollate at 2:14 PM on October 21, 2015 [14 favorites]


Honestly, I don't think most want to listen. This thread is blistering evidence of that, and it's MeFi, which, let's be frank, skews left and tends to at least try when it comes to these things.

Most people are not like that. And in day to day life, we get enough of the, "aren't you being too sensitive about this?" and the, "c'mon, can't you take a joke?" and the like and after a certain point?

Yeah, I opt out. I don't talk to people I don't know very well about anything that is remotely about race in person. Heck, I don't even talk to most people I do know very well. I don't know why I bother online, either.

There's only so many times you can try to say a few specific things in so many ways while people get favorited for saying you think you're some super-special snowflake and your arguments have no merit before you give up and decide that talking to white people about this shit isn't worth it anymore.

And that you probably won't lift a fucking finger if the tables ever turn.
posted by qcubed at 2:21 PM on October 21, 2015 [26 favorites]


Yea, literally no one is doing this.

Except for the people, in this very thread, who specifically say they are doing that.

See, e.g., this comment. It comes with an aggravating bonus side of strongly suggesting that POC who come to a different conclusion about appropriation than the white poster of that comment are just having ~ personal identity issues.
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:21 PM on October 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


Like your kind so frequently has done in the past?

"Your kind"? Really?
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 2:23 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Your kind"? Really?

Yes. Really. I appropriated that phrase from your kind.
posted by qcubed at 2:26 PM on October 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


The "your kind" thing makes me really uncomfortable, can we not.
posted by zutalors! at 2:28 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


> I'll be over in the corner with the conscientious objectors doing something else.

Like commenting how useless and stupid you think this is, because you assume we will care?
posted by rtha at 2:30 PM on October 21, 2015 [14 favorites]


Yeah, I should probably step away from this for a while, 'cause I could probably do with a little less high blood pressure.
posted by qcubed at 2:30 PM on October 21, 2015


[Yeah, let's just kind of collectively ease off a little in here. This is a hard topic and it's showing.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:30 PM on October 21, 2015


See, e.g., this comment. It comes with an aggravating bonus side of strongly suggesting that POC who come to a different conclusion about appropriation than the white poster of that comment are just having ~ personal identity issues.

The poster of that comment was reserving the right to make those judgments for him/herself, which seems reasonable to me. I may or may not disagree with the conclusion--on either the merits of claims to cultural appropriation or the degree to which it matters (to me, to anyone, in the grand cosmic scheme of things, etc.)--but I recognize that there are a lot of ambiguous cases on which reasonable people can disagree without causing the world to end.
posted by echocollate at 2:36 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fighting for a single maxim that should generally be followed (LISTEN TO PEOPLE WHO THEY SAY THEIR CULTURE IS BEING APPROPRIATED) is a lot more efficient than re-litigating every nauseating detail each time it comes up.


Certainly if someone says something your doing offends them, you should strongly consider stopping. This is especially true down privilege gradients.

But how to reason about situations where you haven't heard one way or the other, where it is conceivable that something could offend someone, but by no means certain. Like, someone was telling me the other day that a children's books with a Native American myth written by a non-Native author was too problematic to give to kids. His argument was that a culture's mythology often has a sacred status, and rendering it outside its original context disrespects that.

It struck me as screwy. He hadn't heard any reports from Native Americans that they were offended by such books, much less the particular book in question, and conceded he didn't know of any Native culture that would see such books negatively. It also struck me as infantilizing to presume that people even *care*. Like, maybe they do, OK so google it, or post on a Q and A forum, and stop if it's problematic

I find a lot of the calling of things "problematic" wrt cultural appropriation follows this pattern. A lot of presumption of emotional damage, a lot of presumption of homogeneity among marginalized cultures, and surprisingly little actual investigation of what *actually* offends people. The whole thing strikes me as infantilizing of marginalized people, maybe even a bit of a God complex.

When you get past capitalistic property metaphors like "appropriation." It's not clear to me what is really left of the concept. Like yeah, don't use your privilege to be a dick to people. If you're unsure if you're being a dick, ask. Injecting property metaphors has little benefit, I think, and almost necessarily entrenches a well-meant sort of cultural apartheid, not to mention more pro-capitalist brain noise.
posted by andrewpcone at 2:38 PM on October 21, 2015 [15 favorites]


I wonder if there is something uniquely American we would be offended by if somebody else did it.

It's not a perfect example for many, many reasons, but every once in a while people from the US on the Internet hear about some food like the Pizza Hut in the Middle East that had a crust with little hamburgers in it or Tex-Mex food from Norway with, like herring and peanut butter or whatever, and completely lose their shit. I think that counts.
posted by Copronymus at 2:40 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hey, cortex asked us to back off. Also, a lot of this baiting and counterbaiting puts me in mind of Eddie Izzard's skit about poking stoics with sticks. Maybe if we all stopped poking each other?
posted by kalessin at 2:41 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


The poster of that comment was reserving the right to make those judgments for him/herself, which seems reasonable to me. I may or may not disagree with the conclusion--on either the merits of claims to cultural appropriation or the degree to which it matters (to me, to anyone, in the grand cosmic scheme of things, etc.)--but I recognize that there are a lot of ambiguous cases on which reasonable people can disagree without causing the world to end.

If a white person says "this isn't racist", and then I go "I disagree", sure, saying "I'll consider it but you're probably wrong because you're uppity" is reserving the right to make a judgment. But it's probably a racist and very bad no good judgment.

Like, that was literally what was said. The way deanc responded to me was to say that I was literally "someone who doesn't know what he's talking about working out his personal identity and coming to terms with how to express and grapple with ideas and philosophical theories." How does that not just scream microaggression to people?
posted by Conspire at 2:48 PM on October 21, 2015 [29 favorites]


Do you? You think you do. I bet you don't. Are you asked a lot where you're really from? Do people assume you got your college admission/job because of affirmative action? Do people congratulate you on being a particularly articulate member of and credit to your race? Assume you're really good at math? Ask you what reservation you grew up on? Congratulate you on speaking English so well?

Yes, I absolutely do live in the same society that a black or Asian person lives in. Of course I have different experiences within that society, but that does not mean that I don't live in the same society. Everyone has different experiences than everyone else, based on numerous factors, but we can communicate in spite of and sometimes because of those differing experiences. Coexistence means we have different lives and experiences but live together. A living culture is forged from the dialogue between different people living together in the same society. That dialogue is shaped by a thousand different forms of hierarchy and privilege and power, many more forms than just race/gender, but there is still a common humanity behind that. People should not be excluded from the dialogue.

Anyway, this relates back to the topic of the post, appropriation. It's interesting to think about that in the context of traditional American music, which was a particularly rich living culture. Take someone like Will Marion Cook, a black American student of Dvorak who studied classical music in Berlin and then lifted syncopated musical styles from ragtime and transplanted them to Broadway, setting the stage for the combination of light operatta and heavily syncopated rhythms that is the heart of the American musical, heavily used by Rogers and Hammerstein et al. Who is appropriating from who there? Or take WC Handy, the son of former slaves who picks up enough European musical training as a bandleader to come up with a unique way to transpose the singing style he hears from black laborers into sheet music. Through his publishing efforts blues then gets picked up by Tin Pan Alley and transmitted through radio and records all over the world, where it inspires people of every race. He gets fairly rich (deservedly so), but the black laborers who inspired him get no money and no fame, because they don't have the skills to systematize this music, translate it into European notation and inject it into the new technological distribution systems being invented by European engineers. Who is appropriating from who there? You could multiply these examples indefinitely; American music is a hybrid genre with all kinds of interpenetration between races and cultures.

There are all kinds of inequalities that affect and structure these cultural exchanges, but in the end the exchange itself and what it creates is the most important thing. Sometimes it's worthwhile to put your injustice hat on and try to rectify some specific inequality in some specific way (say, the distribution of royalties or credit) but more often you end up just hacking the tapestry to pieces.
posted by zipadee at 2:51 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Possibly relevant. (New Yorker Magazine exploration of systemic racism in Asian-American experience.)
posted by kalessin at 2:56 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


in the end the exchange itself and what it creates is the most important thing

It can also be an extremely culturally destructive thing. There are exchanges that are benign, productive, even welcome. But not all exchanges are like that.
posted by Miko at 2:59 PM on October 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


> But how to reason about situations where you haven't heard one way or the other

Sometimes there are going to be things you don't know. A lot of times, probably. This is true for everyone. Personally, I generally find that when I discover some previously-unknown-to-me thing, it's most useful if I step back and think about it more, read about it, listen to people who have encountered it talk about what they know about it, and so on.
posted by rtha at 3:00 PM on October 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


Like commenting how useless and stupid you think this is, because you assume we will care?

Let me try again.

If by "this" you mean the incessant bickering over who has the right to give and take offense, yes. I think it's mostly rhetorical jockeying built on a foundation of Very Strong Feelings. I think it's much easier to try and undercut an opponent's moral authority to have an opinion about a thing than to make a rational argument in defense of a position or to address the merits of even the most minor criticism or dissent.

If you personally disagree with anything particular I wrote, I'm happy to hear a counterargument. But your reply essentially boils down to "nobody cares what you think" and implies I should just keep my thoughts to myself, which is a weird posture to take on Metafilter.
posted by echocollate at 3:03 PM on October 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


@zipadee: both of your examples were of Black musicians actively sharing their culture with the world using the tools of popular culture. That is the polar opposite of appropriation. An example of appropriation is "white son of former slave owners records and arranges slave spirituals, popularizes them via barbershop quartets and becomes rich, gets credited for 'discovering' the form, actual slaves forgotten."
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:06 PM on October 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


What is the big deal with "not getting to" use some things? What's the big deal with saying, "I don't understand, but other people are important to me and valuable to me, so I will listen to you,"? Hel, I took on the personal project to remove all slurs from my language a while ago and I have never regretted it - and yes, this includes even the "silly" words like 'crazy' and 'lame'. Scattered, overwhelmed, upset, and pathetic are not only words with 100% less prejudice but they also tend to be a lot more accurate.

Also, people of color talk to white people about this all the time. Every single Halloween, for example. There are entire blogs aimed at educating white people about cultural appropriation specifically and racism in general. It's also a regular topic on podcasts with a lot of people of color - and they even disagree with each other and the conversations get really interesting. If there are white people who actually want to learn - take it from me, POC are teaching and making more available to white people than ever before. I have learned SO MUCH and I am so grateful for their vulnerability, willingness to speak up, and willingness to endure things like the racism in this thread.

If you're not learning, it's not on them.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:09 PM on October 21, 2015 [32 favorites]


"willingness to endure racism" seems kinda bullshitty to me on reflection. Willingness to speak up even though they know racism is all but inevitable? Something less "omg the white woman is here nao".
posted by Deoridhe at 3:10 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


The whole thing strikes me as infantilizing of marginalized people, maybe even a bit of a God complex.

This is a really good example of what marginalized people are talking about when they say privileged voices get the priority in conversations about their marginalization. There are many people of different races in this thread talking about how cultural appropriation has a negative effect on them, and rather than engage with what they're saying you pull out an example of a non-Native person making assumptions about what Native people find offensive to prop up your thesis that we're all... what, infantilizing ourselves? Getting a God Complex about our own experiences? What?

Look, I know this thread has gotten heated, so I'm going to emphasize that I don't think you're deliberately trying to do this or anything, but the net effect of your comment is that even while discounting what this friend of yours is saying you're still prioritizing the opinion of someone not part of the conversation who (at least in this particular instance) is not affected by cultural appropriation over the words of people who are on both counts. Please don't do this.
posted by bettafish at 3:13 PM on October 21, 2015 [31 favorites]


I find a lot of the calling of things "problematic" wrt cultural appropriation follows this pattern.

Do you have any examples besides the one guy with the book?
posted by osk at 3:16 PM on October 21, 2015


the fact of the matter is that being nonwhite in a white majority society means that you are always low-level prepared for someone to say a racially stupid thing. it's fucking exhausting.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:22 PM on October 21, 2015 [22 favorites]


My relationship with the kimono is as an icon in cartoon cinema pointing to the comically strange foreigner with the broken English. I'm more than happy to give that particular bundle of semiotics a critical look if asked, especially since it doesn't cost me more than the work typing this comment.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:24 PM on October 21, 2015


I'm not saying this in a heated way, and I'm not intending to be short about it, but the primary reason that my social justice-oriented friends, colleagues, and indeed I myself say "problematic" is that it is often a polite shorthand and substitution for angrily saying, "I can't believe after all these years that this same incredibly fucked up thing is yet again being seriously proposed as a way to dismiss my concerns and feelings."
posted by kalessin at 3:29 PM on October 21, 2015 [28 favorites]


Cultural diffusion and acculturation vs cultural appropriation.

I was recently involved in a facebook discussion about cultural appropriation and everyone involved were of European descent. One side said it was all offensive and the other said it was unavoidable. In the end I worry that energy devoted to being offended by cultural appropriation is energy that is not going towards the traditional concerns of minority groups, such as the right to vote.
Perhaps minorities in the US need to be more frightened about voter suppression and less offended by people of European descent wearing their hair styles.
posted by Gwynarra at 3:29 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


[A comment deleted. Let's please move beyond the "all people should be able to do everything otherwise it isn't FAIR" line of argument, as we have seen that one through far too many times. Thanks.]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:29 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Perhaps minorities in the US need to be more frightened about voter suppression and less offended by people of European descent wearing their hair styles.

People can actually do both. This isn't an either or.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:36 PM on October 21, 2015 [16 favorites]


Perhaps minorities are also concerned about these things you think are more important. Perhaps minorities aren't discussing those other things at this particular moment because that would derail the thread. Perhaps minorities can successfully live their lives as productive and valuable members of society without being told what to care about by white people.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:38 PM on October 21, 2015 [28 favorites]


Helpful Tips for White People: Any time you're about to say a sentence that starts with "perhaps minorities should...", you are going to say something that cements your status as astoundingly ignorant white person and likely balls-out racist.
posted by Conspire at 3:42 PM on October 21, 2015 [31 favorites]


I wonder if there is something uniquely American we would be offended by if somebody else did it.

Given that most of this discussion - as far as I can tell - is rooted in the context of U.S. culture, it appears (to someone outside of it, at least) not to work that way.

One strategy of imposing U.S. cultural hegemony on the world has largely been to make signifiers of American culture things for non-American people to aspire to and adopt as their own - the Coca Cola Strategy, if you will. A corollary strategy - Disneyfication - is where narratives are absorbed into American culture and made American (perhaps with a veneer of the target culture, but representing the contemporary tropes and values of U.S. culture at the time of production). This is pretty much all of their animated output from Snow White and Pinocchio via Winnie the Pooh and The Jungle Book to Frozen and the upcoming Moana, and is a more obviously appropriative strategy. The resulting movies are vigorously sold throughout the world.

I'd suggest that the purpose of both strategies is to blur the edges between American culture and the cultures of the rest of the world, placing American interests and values at the centre, with all the other cultures disposed around them and dependent on them. Given that the strategies arose at the same time that the United States was developing/imposing political and economic hegemony, I would be sceptical of suggestions that they did so accidentally or coincidentally.

Or in short, when the U.S. adopts culture from the rest of the world, it changes it to make it American, and in a sense makes it totemic of U.S. domination over that culture. At the same time it disperses its own culture into the rest of the world, but in a way that is intended to make the recipients more American. So it's not really possible for anyone else to appropriate American culture in the same way.
posted by Grangousier at 3:47 PM on October 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


> In the end I worry that energy devoted to being offended by cultural appropriation is energy that is not going towards the traditional concerns of minority groups, such as the right to vote.

You are needlessly worried. People of color and other marginalized people in the US are really good at multitasking. That you may be unaware of the many groups and individuals working on issues like voter suppression might only indicate simply that you are unaware, not that it isn't happening.
posted by rtha at 3:50 PM on October 21, 2015 [14 favorites]


Pro Tip: If you are not part of the culture being appropriated, your opinion on whether or not said appropriation is hurtful is worthless. Q.E.D.

Per my earlier question, I absolutely agree with this. I will continue with my Trying Not to Be An Asshole program, overall, and I guess just kind of deal with the more puzzling aspects/questions that go with being an ally with neither panic nor defensiveness.

Also, fellow white people, the same rules apply here as when women are telling men "No really, I get hassled on the street when you're not around and I hate it." The rule is: do them the courtesy of taking them at their word. If you are embarrassed or angry at having stepped in it socially, oh well. It stings but it won't kill you.* And if your monkey brain starts panicking "Aaah I can't keep up with all the rules, it's too hard!" just go do something calming and try to think through it later.

*So earlier this year I called a black co-worker by the name of another black co-worker. I frequently do this to everyone, I have some weird block about names, but he didn't know that, and was offended, and given that white people in general do that sort of thing a lot (not seeing the differences between two black people) it really didn't matter that it's possible I was not racist in that instant.

Truly, I don't know; maybe I would have made the same mistake if he were white, maybe I wouldn't. Maybe it was racism and not my weird problem that time. On his end, it didn't really matter, and I didn't need to give him excuses. Given the crap he probably puts up with daily, I needed to apologize and just let him hate my guts if he wanted to. It really felt awful, though, to have caused him hurt in that way, and be thought of as One of Those white people. I wanted to get angry and blame him for being upset. It would have taken me off the hook. But that would have made it worse. The hook is very uncomfortable, but we have to let ourselves stay on it for a while, it's instructive. Even if it makes you cringe at yourself.
posted by emjaybee at 3:50 PM on October 21, 2015 [23 favorites]


Perhaps minorities in the US need to be more frightened about voter suppression and less offended by people of European descent wearing their hair styles.

1. Minorities in the US can and do have opinions and take action on both of those things.
2. Literally six comments above yours I asked another poster not to prioritize the opinions of privileged people who aren't even in this thread over the marginalized people who are.
posted by bettafish at 3:59 PM on October 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


> If you personally disagree with anything particular I wrote, I'm happy to hear a counterargument. But your reply essentially boils down to "nobody cares what you think" and implies I should just keep my thoughts to myself, which is a weird posture to take on Metafilter.

The entirety of the comment of yours I was responding to:

> Yea, literally no one is doing this.

I really wish I had the historical/anthropological background to know whether the concept of cultural appropriation as a distinctly negative thing in the context of other hegemonies (Roman, Japanese, etc.) existed prior to modernity, or if it's something unique to our age.

With regard to the ethics of giving and taking offense, I'm pretty much over it. It's clear that the ugly thumbwar over who has the moral right to offend or not offend and on what grounds is a proxy battle over a historical lack of empowerment among marginalized groups in other areas, many toward which I am deeply sympathetic. But I think the whole thing has gone off the rails in an unseemly and unhealthy way. All these petty skirmishes to circumscribe and consolidate claims to moral authority just to have or express an opinion? Fucking good luck with that. I'll be over in the corner with the conscientious objectors doing something else.


What should I argue with? That you're over the ethics of giving and taking offense? That you are dismissive ("thumbwar") of what and how people (here? everywhere?) are discussing this subject? That you think it's all unseemly and petty? Or maybe that anyone involved in these discussion is just here for the point-scoring? There is no argument there that I wish to engage with.

You are welcome to those opinions. What I challenged was your presumption that we ought to be interested in your eye-rolling dismissal. Maybe other people are and I guess they can address that.
posted by rtha at 4:00 PM on October 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


Great article
posted by Bwithh at 4:06 PM on October 21, 2015


No, it's really on the white people who "get it" to do the actual work of challenging racism and imperialist thought among their peer group. It is not the primary task of POC

I largely agree. I never said anything about this being a responsibility of POCs, I was just responding to the prior comment.

It's a shame this thread became so heated, but it's not like anyone should be surprised considering the sensitivity of the topic. I believe that this is an exceptionally nuanced subject, but that gets lost in a lot of the arguing. It most recently came into my awareness during last year's twitter feud between the Azalias (Banks/Iggy). The whole spectacle was pretty unfortunate, but the one good thing that came out of it, for me, were the wise words of Q-Tip.

Up until that point, I had been on the fence about the issue of cultural appropriation, but Q-Tip's words really brought it into focus for me. My concern was that concerns about appropriation sounded to me like they would stiffle the positive (and natural) aspects of cultural borrowing. What I got from Q-Tip is that one way you avoid appropriation is by understanding and honoring the source culture that you're borrowing from. When you do that, you're contributing and broadening, not appropriating in a negative way. That feels like a good rule of thumb, for me.

At least, that's what I got from Q-Tip.
posted by Edgewise at 4:06 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was pointing out that the kimono protest was a good example of that since calling an exhibit that was organized in part by the NHK (the Japanese broadcasting company) as being racist and culturally appropriatitive is weird.

Having lived in Japan I think the perception of this is very different when this happens in Japan vs North America, as well as the perception being very different for a Japanese person in Japan vs a Japanese-American in America. To my Japanese students, the idea of me getting fitted for samurai armor to participate in the town's annual samurai parade was to them a hilarious idea I should totally do. In Canada, me showing up to a Japanese cultural event dressed in traditional Japanese garb would be pretty weird and might piss people off.

(I didn't wind up going to Town Hall to participate in the parade despite my students telling me I should. I got stared at enough out there without marching around dressed in 3-size-too-small replica armor)
posted by Hoopo at 4:09 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's a shame this thread became so heated, but it's not like anyone should be surprised considering the sensitivity of the topic.

I'm definitely not surprised, but I don't know, it would have been nice if it hadn't? I know I personally popped into this thread because I was hoping to talk about some of the finer nuances with other Asian Americans and folks who get appropriated, but the thread has long since derailed into White People Pontificating, if it was anywhere else in the first place, and not only do I not have the energy, it's pretty clear that I'd be yelling into the wind if I did.
posted by bettafish at 4:11 PM on October 21, 2015 [20 favorites]


My concern was that concerns about appropriation sounded to me like they would stiffle the positive (and natural) aspects of cultural borrowing

Unless you are a member of the culture being appropriated, your concern does not have a place among their voices, nor should it be given any weight or priority. Those "concerns" you speak of are being voiced by people of color, and it would be far better for you to not participate in the mad-dash to silence them.
posted by Ashen at 4:17 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


The theoretical harm that could possibly happen if people stopped with their cultural appropriation does not outweigh the actual harm actually happening because of cultural appropriation.
posted by jeather at 4:18 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Unless you are a member of the culture being appropriated, your concern does not have a place among their voices, nor should it be given any weight or priority.

It was not a concern I voiced in public. It was a concern, I had myself, in my own head.

...and it would be far better for you to not participate in the mad-dash to silence them.

What have I ever done that could be characterized as such?

Perhaps this really is too sensitive a topic to have a conversation about. Apologies if I have upset you with my story.
posted by Edgewise at 4:24 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


[Edgewise, either back out of this thread or don't, but knock it off with the sideways accusations that everyone else is just too sensitive.]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 4:29 PM on October 21, 2015 [18 favorites]


If by "this" you mean the incessant bickering over who has the right to give and take offense, yes.

Maybe it's not fucking "bickering", maybe it's real people speaking up about how their actual real lives are actually shittier than they need to be. Calling it "bickering" is minimizing the problem, like it's just a bunch of whiners who can't agree on where to have lunch.

And there wouldn't be any damn "bickering" if some of us white folks didn't feel some burning urge to pontificate all over threads about shit that we have no actual experience with.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:32 PM on October 21, 2015 [22 favorites]


Fair enough...sorry for real.
posted by Edgewise at 4:32 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I wear my nón lá for practically.

It is really quite useful when you're already breaking your back harvesting the rice fields and you just don't really need the sun right now, 'k?

I don't see a lot of appropriation of Vietnamese culture, but probably mostly because most Americans would feel uncomfortable in an áo dài. Heck even the Vietnamese women I know don't wear them unless they have to.
posted by numaner at 4:50 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I (a white lady) was having a conversation about this very topic with two of my girlfriends (one is native American and the other is Indian). One of them was working on a dance that incorporated some flamenco and she was worrying about appropriation. The other responded that she didn't feel bad about taking or using anything that historically belonged to a country that was an oppressor and not an oppressee. Somehow that made sense in my head as a metric.

It was really interesting to hear their opinions about how white culture uses their traditions freely and here she is trying to be thoughtful about borrowing from their dance. It really made me think carefully about some of the decisions I have made and informs how I want to move forward in the future.
posted by chatongriffes at 4:57 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't see a lot of appropriation of Vietnamese culture, but probably mostly because most Americans would feel uncomfortable in an áo dài. Heck even the Vietnamese women I know don't wear them unless they have to.

...I am somewhat dumbfounded by this as I find them enormously comfortable and it never occurred to me that anyone would find them otherwise. Huh.

But yeah, in my experience there isn't a lot of appropriation that is specifically of Vietnamese culture rather than, like, generalist stereotypes about Southeast and East Asia that feed into each other because All Asians Are Alike Amirite. On the other hand Vietnamese women do face a lot of fetishization and, relatedly, Vietnamese people in general are kind of marginalized from discussion of our own history in the US -- I think you could make the argument that that's appropriation, but of a slightly different tenor.
posted by bettafish at 5:04 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Okay, this isn't how I expected this thread to go - in MeFi of all places. I was expecting better, not poorly dressed up excuses to be racist because it's all too apparently hard.

I don't claim to understand cultural appropriation completely and fully accept that there are multiple valid viewpoints on the topic - but I was hoping for more nuance. This is almost at the save level of the instagram profile I came across the other day that was claiming that white girls look better in bindis than brown girls.
posted by liquorice at 5:05 PM on October 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Good to consider how much more complicated cultural appropriation (and cultural identity) becomes in a global context. So the experience of the Met exhibit may be not at all hurtful to a Japanese person in Japan, but may be extremely hurtful to a Japanese-American in the US.

On the surface, it seems confusing and complicated to explain but honestly it isn't so difficult. Give way to the person whose experience is most likely to have been impacted by the use of the symbol in question.

chatongriffes just wrote: she didn't feel bad about taking or using anything that historically belonged to a country that was an oppressor and not an oppressee. Somehow that made sense in my head as a metric. I think before reading this thread, I would have reflexively thought the same thing. But the Met exhibit is an excellent case in point where that metric does not hold. For much of Asia today, the idea of the Japanese as oppressed would be seen as funny (I have Korean friends who are absolutely terrified that Japan has decided to step up its military presence and the Chinese scars from Japanese occupation run very deep). But Japanese-Americans face legitimate racism and oppression. I think many people approached the Met exhibit from the point of view of the Japanese and not the Japanese Americans. I might have done the same until reading this thread.

Conspire, I was honestly annoyed by your comment about white people spewing Chinese but I want to thank you for it because I had to think about my own discomfort. It's not your job to be my teacher, but it made me think anyhow. I live in Hong Kong, and my poor Cantonese has been hard won for me. If I'd been back in a US city, I might well have switched to Cantonese trying to be polite if I was speaking to someone not familiar with English. I didn't like that I might need to think about how that would be perceived by younger Chinese-Americans who didn't have the same opportunity to learn. But honestly, that's not that difficult for me to do and I should do it. It's not that complicated to understand that it's respectful for me to speak Cantonese here in Hong Kong, but it could be bragging to speak Cantonese when ordering Dim Sum in New York. So anyhow-- not my teacher, but I learned a lot from your comments anyhow. Thank you.
posted by frumiousb at 5:18 PM on October 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm really appreciating the conversation, so thanks to those sharing their points of view, especially from those working hard to battle through the static of this form of everyday racism and racialized thinking. I think this is one of those places that you really do get a pretty clear view of white supremacy/dominant cultural hegemony at work, because things like: feeling the right to appropriate everything, declaring that there are or should be no sacred cows, declaring oneself alone the authority that controls whether one should have access to and freedom to use cultural information - these are all habits and privileges that are deeply written into that system, sometimes at a not-even-conscious level. And in the short time I've been engaged in related issues I've been surprised to see how difficult it can be. Biases against even having this discussion are not hard to find when you dig into even very well-meaning white communities, because (unlike things like using racial slurs or actively discriminating) these are things we have been encouraged to truly take for granted, not even question, as a birthright.

As far as the MFA Kimono thing, that was something my colleagues and I watched pretty closely and discussed, and I think the issues raised in the incident are very easily and commonly misrepresented. It wasn't just "wearing a kimono" that was deemed problematic by protestors. It was inviting museum guests to mimic a painting that itself was meant (to some degree) to mock Orientalism by participating, themselves, in another act of Orientalism, which would then be posted, minus the art-historical context and information about the negative cultural impacts of Orientalism at the time the painting was made, on social media as a marketing campaign for the museum. Then, when the protestors raised concern, the museum's next move was to write a set of internal talking points for staff to use to convey the message that "we don't think this is racist" and other singularly defensive statements, including the idea that they "welcome dialogue" but were not planning to have end Kimono Wednesdays, or even to host any more formal "dialogue" in which the museum would be a participant rather than simply a sender of this arm's length, one-way message. There was a point at which this could have become a really productive exchange about appropriation, interchange and exchange, issues of Asian representations in art history and today's art museums, and so on, and the MFA chose not to take that road, which made the controversy much more painful for them. And that's all before we even get into the differing contexts and perspectives of Japanese-Americans and Asian-Americans in general and the Japanese national citizens who created the project. So, there was so much more at work than just "wearing a kimono." There is a respectful learning context for wearing a kimono in a museum, understanding how/why/when/by whom it is and was worn, how it is constructed, and how it is portrayed in art history - but this was not it, and the relatively thoughtless framing of the activity did warrant critique. Does that mean there aren't similar things going on every single day in many museums that never get called out? Nope. Those kinds of shallow "wear the clothes of this culture to magically understand them/see yourself as a romantic image of them!" programs are still unfortunately common, but the visible critique that resulted from the MFA's incident has helpfully furthered the practice of museum education to think a bit harder about whether playing "dress-up" in this way constitutes responsible, insightful cultural or historical education. So there's a lot to say about it, but let's not reduce it to "wearing a kimono." It was more than that.

Finally, on the word "problematic" - you hear it everywhere, but I think it's a great word. Why? Because it's not an accusation. It just says "there is a problem here." So the conversation doesn't become "You said something racist!" / "But I'm not racist!" Instead, it says "there is a difficulty or point of contention here, something we can problematize, look at, and discuss. Let's do so." Calling something "problematic" is an act of identification and a call to action - a call to examine that thing. So it is a useful word in that way, that it sidesteps the whole activation of personal defenses (for the most part) to talk about that thing and the problems it poses for at least some of the people considering it.
posted by Miko at 5:25 PM on October 21, 2015 [33 favorites]


Oops, I wanted to link to the MFA's page of talking points because for me, this was a really clarifying moment of realizing how complete the attempt to stonewall real discussion of institutional responsibility really was.
posted by Miko at 5:32 PM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Huh. Well, to lighten things up especially after the licorice comment.

Goerge Bush and Vladimir Putin dressed in Áo gấm.

"I don't see a lot of appropriation of Vietnamese culture, but probably mostly because most Americans would feel uncomfortable in an áo dài."

True. You mention a very interesting subject as when the garment was modernized and promoted by
Tự Lực văn đoàn: "The group was identified as anti-French and, for example, excluded from French-organized literary and art conferences."

Not a new thing going on here.
posted by clavdivs at 5:32 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


I thought the comparison to copyright was interesting.

More troubling is that it herds culture and tradition into the pen of a moral ownership not dissimilar to copyright, which may suit a legalistic outlook but jars with our human impulse to like what we like and create new things out of it.

It explains a lot of the why for cultural appropriation. When people hear something they want to imitate it and change it and grow it in ways the originators may not like. That goes for all forms of expression. It's a powerful impulse to fight against in the cases where it must justifiably be fought.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:32 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Article from earlier this year essentially arguing the same point as Zushi (even using some of the same examples):

“Cultural appropriation,” “white privilege” and the attacks on rapper Iggy Azalea
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 5:51 PM on October 21, 2015


There's this one, recently in the NYT, too. The concept has been growing in awareness for a few years, and now that it has traction, there is a backlash.
posted by Miko at 5:53 PM on October 21, 2015


Thanks for that link, the link to Questlove's view on Iggy was interesting.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:05 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thanks for that link, the link to Questlove's view on Iggy was interesting.

Only unless you don't know he's one of The New Black.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:51 PM on October 21, 2015


Uhh, okay if you say so?
posted by Drinky Die at 7:06 PM on October 21, 2015


Uhh, okay if you say so?

Sorry, I didn't mean you specifically. Also, I'll reword my statement to say, "...he's (in my opinion) one of The New Black."
posted by fuse theorem at 7:23 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ahh, got ya. I was confused because he wasn't mentioned in the link, didn't realize it was just there to explain the concept you were talking about.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:25 PM on October 21, 2015


Was he saying it racist-like?” she asked. “He said he voted for her later, and I don’t think he was saying it racist.”

I gather from this statement that Kim Hunter was elected President.
posted by clavdivs at 7:31 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


modernized and promoted by Tự Lực văn đoàn

thanks for this! I didn't learn a lot of pre-unification Vietnamese history growing up, now this gives me another starting point.
posted by numaner at 7:41 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Let me preface this by saying that I have heard loud and clear the opposition to cultural appropriation in general, and that I should probably end there, especially if my next sentence begins with "but." But. I have a close relative by marriage who grew up in Mexico and now lives in northeast U.S. He's been posting on Facebook about how happy he is that more white folks are into Dia de Los Muertos stuff because it means his kids will get to experience it around Halloween and learn a little more about where he's from and his culture. And I (as a white person) personally have tried to avoid getting too into it because I have heard and read people saying that it's cultural appropriation and makes them hurt/uncomfortable. But at the same time, him and his kids being stoked to see more Dia de Los Muertos stuff feels like how the U.S. should work - they get to dress up, their friends get to dress up, their friends get stoked about Mexican culture, embrace it, and hopefully less people are racist against Mexicans. And actually experiencing how other people celebrate stuff around Halloween can help white folks recognize their own culture as an actual thing and not just the default. The melting pot! And yet, again, I totally see how it could make other people upset, and worried that like McDonald's will start selling skeleton shakes or whatever and it'll become another part of American hegemony. So on the one hand I feel like it's a really nice way of integrating more different cultures into America, and on the other hand can be really problematic and hurtful.

Is the difference that it's my relative who wants to share this part of his culture and is happy to see it getting popular? Or that maybe Dia de Los Muertos is not quite religion and more like Halloween and so the stakes are lower? Sorry if this is 101 level, I've just been wondering about how to square the two sides.
posted by one_bean at 8:03 PM on October 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


(And I really hope my question doesn't come off as "actually let me come up with this one specific question to prove the whole idea of cultural appropriation wrong and derail the conversation and have you teach me how this works", I'm just really trying to figure out how to reconcile, if possible, being happy this part of my family is happy at the popularity of Dia de Los Muertos with the recognition that many people are very much not happy and, in fact, legitimately hurt by it.)
posted by one_bean at 8:07 PM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh man I just had an epiphany from reading through this frankly impressively good thread about a touchy topic (and I apologize in advance that it's About White People, because everything is)

I just figured out that the hate for Hipsters is almost certainly because it is, as a social movement, fundamentally just cultural appropriation of White People Amirite stuff, and white people just sort of stew in nameless anger because, being the privileged majority, they have literally no frame of reference with which to process the discomfort of seeing themselves depicted in the same sort of carelessly offensive way as they so gladly depict pretty much any other culture or race.
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:12 PM on October 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


re: Melting pot. When I was in school in the 90s they had started to move on more towards a salad bowl as a metaphor. It has some advantages as a description because it allows for the whole to be viewed as one thing but still with distinct parts. The drawback is you can get less of a shared American identity that way and to some degree a shared identity may be necessary for a multicultural society to function well. Recognize what we have in common and what makes us distinct. Be respectful of both to the appropriate degree.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:18 PM on October 21, 2015


The Mexican Day of the Dead has been pretty aggressively marketed to mainstream America by Mexican Americans. I have heard complaints about appropriation, but they mostly take the form of concern that indifferent corporations are now monetizing pastiches of Day of the Dead stuff, removing it from any historical or cultural context, and selling it as fashion.

But if there is a Day of the Dead festival put on by Mexicans or Mexicans, and it is publicized or you are invited, there doesn't seem to be any cause for concern. And if you like Day of the Dead stuff, go ahead and buy it, but your money might most responsibly be spent on Mexican and Mexican American artists, rather than American corporations.
posted by maxsparber at 8:24 PM on October 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


I should note that I am just rehashing what I have read elsewhere, because I also like the holiday and have shared your concerns.
posted by maxsparber at 8:26 PM on October 21, 2015


Not all "approbation" is made equal.

Some appropriation is like a horse chewing on grass - the grass is consumed, but does not benefit.

But some is like a horse eating an apple - it is still consumed, but the apple tree benefits, as its seeds (aka cultural influence) is increased by the adoption of its ways by other people.
posted by jb at 8:28 PM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


As far as I have seen, those who object to Day of the Dead appropriation are mostly disturbed by the reduction of a religious/familial holiday to makeup and a costume, without any serious observance or invitation to participate from people who can share the fuller context. That's the negative associated with the appropriation - not the respectful celebration of a holiday you've been invited to share by people who observe it with serious intent and knowledge.

It seems to me that the call to avoid inappropriate appropriation isn't the same thing as avoiding the use of all cultural material not your own. Instead it's a prompt to give thoughtful consideration to what you borrow, why, and with whose permission, to listen to others about it and to seek a personal ethical decision that you and others can live with.

This comes up in a somewhat similar way with Chinese New Year, a holiday whose celebration has become more generalized in recent years, and which some members of Chinese communities (at least those I have worked with) enjoy sharing with outsiders.

I agree that commodification is a pernicious aspect of appropriation and that if you're going to spend money on Day of the Dead events or objects, do it in such a way that it benefits artists and practitioners from the community rather than corporations for whom this is the flavor of the moment and offer zero context for wearing/understanding the items.
posted by Miko at 8:30 PM on October 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


it's About White People, because everything is)

No, it's not. Really, as others have said, White people re everyone didn't need to be the focus of this discussion.

Also do you just suppose only white people are hipsters? The rest of that comment doesn't even really make a lot of sense to me. Whose appropriating what from white people? I don't understand.

I don't mean this as mean or snarky, I just didn't see any reason to be like, sorry this is about white people, but it has to be.
posted by zutalors! at 8:35 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


"I have heard complaints about appropriation, but they mostly take the form of concern that indifferent corporations are now monetizing pastiches of Day of the Dead stuff..."

You heard right!

"Be the hit of the party with this macabre Day of the Dead Halloween Costume. It includes a jacket, a shirt/vest, a hat and gloves."
posted by clavdivs at 8:46 PM on October 21, 2015


Pro Tip: If you are not part of the culture being appropriated, your opinion on whether or not said appropriation is hurtful is worthless. Q.E.D.
posted by grumpybear69


Except that if you are white and Anglo, your culture is being adopted and used by others all the time, all over the world. There are Tudor villages in China.

Many people will say, aha! but that's different, because Anglos aren't an oppressed minority anywhere - which I totally agree with.

But I also think one of the things that contributes to English/Anglo power is how our language and culture has been embraced and adopted around the world - and if I were say, China, I would actively encourage the adoption of Chinese language and culture elsewhere, even if only as fashion markers, because that would increase my cultural influence and soft power.

Japan also makes a lot money exporting cultural products, though not as much as the United States does.

Cultural appropriation can also help small cultures survive. English folk culture is dying, while Scottish and Irish folk culture is adopted by people all over the world. I belong to a minority culture (Judaism). Some of our texts only survived because they were copied by Christians (ironically, the accounts of the Jews beating the Greeks only survived in Greek) - and a lot of more recent aspects of Ashkenazi Jewish culture live on through non-Jewish use. Yiddish will (sadly) die as a language, but it will live on in English, thanks to the adoption of so many Yiddish words by non-Yiddish people.
posted by jb at 8:53 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Not all "approbation" is made equal.

Thank you, autocorrect.

Obviously, I meant appropriation.
posted by jb at 8:54 PM on October 21, 2015


But I also think one of the things that contributes to English/Anglo power is how our language and culture has been embraced and adopted around the world - and if I were say, China, I would actively encourage the adoption of Chinese language and culture elsewhere, even if only as fashion markers, because that would increase my cultural influence and soft power.

Which they do. As does Japan. As does South Korea.

Let's talk a bit about context here. South Korea (well, let's just say Korea) is a nation with a sizable chip (well, chips) on its shoulder. It's also taking its early steps on the world stage, because it's newly powerful (to an extent), and setting aside the MiniTruth feel of the Ministry of Culture's name, is actively engaged in promoting Hallyu worldwide.

It is not necessarily appropriation when South Korea keeps trying to get people to buy Samsung/LG/Hyundai/Kia, or listen to T-ara, Sistar, or EXO or BIGBANG. It's very much a push sentiment here. It is not necessarily appropriation when Korea, in somewhat ham-handed attempts at PR, promulgate stories of how they spent millions to develop a space-friendly kimchi to go up to the ISS, to raise interest in Korean cuisine, or, in possibly a more subtle fashion, point the New York Times in the direction of a Korean nun who may or may not make the best vegan food.

This is where it starts getting murky. Koreans in Korea do like it when Americans in America embrace aspects of Korean culture. Indeed, lots of Korean-Americans in America also like it. It's fascinating to see non-Koreans excited about K-pop groups, even though a solid argument can be made that their origins were enormously appropriative themselves.

On the other hand, you have other bits which are much more explicitly appropriative, and not necessarily in a good way. Kimchi seems to be a big trendy new thing with chefs, and although kimchi itself has innumerable variations, just because something is pickled doesn't make it kimchi. This does not seem to matter to many chefs. Why is this problematic?

Because for a long time, "kimchi" was the polite replacement for shit in phrases like, "when shit hits the fan". All of a sudden, it's trendy, and suddenly people are paying attention to it, but buying crap versions that aren't even made right in grocery stores because it's supposed to be some superfood. All of a sudden, it's cool to eat it because white people like it. The same white people who not even a decade ago would complain about Korean-American neighbors because kimchi itself was aromatic and pungent.

So maybe when Koreans are excited about Americans eating kimchi, they have a different perspective than Korean-Americans who may be a little bit less enthused about it. Koreans in Korea may not have had to deal with the insults, the dismissals, the conflation of cultures that Korean-Americans in America have had. This does not mean that one side is wrong. It means that context does, in fact, matter. It means that when a white chef decides to call something kimchi and then uses none of the basic and traditional ingredients and results in something that deserves to hit a fan, Korean-Americans are not wrong to scorn the appropriation of a cultural thing, even if it doesn't have the same sacred charge that a Native headdress does.

--

Also, re Putin/Bush wearing áo gấm. I'm not sure why you brought that up, because I don't think it qualifies as appropriation. Again, context matters. It's at an APEC summit--and the tradition is, at every summit, all the world leaders present wear the traditional dress of the host nation for the photograph. They wore ponchos in Peru, hanbok in Korea, guayabera shirts in Mexico, and so on.
posted by qcubed at 9:31 PM on October 21, 2015 [23 favorites]


Is the difference that it's my relative who wants to share this part of his culture and is happy to see it getting popular? Or that maybe Dia de Los Muertos is not quite religion and more like Halloween and so the stakes are lower? Sorry if this is 101 level, I've just been wondering about how to square the two sides.

Respectfully, Día de los Muertos is a great example that highlights the difference between appreciating different cultures and cultural appropriation. If you have a relative who can show you what it's all about, that's a great way to learn about and experience a different culture. The danger is in a superficial understanding of the holiday, and assuming that because it involves skeletons, costumes, death, and it's close to Halloween that it's kind of like Halloween - that's when a superficial celebrating of Día de los Muertos starts to become cultural appropriation. Because (and I'm not trying to single you out or anything) there's a general sense that it's kinda like Halloween, but really Día de los Muertos is not Halloween.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:04 PM on October 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


Respectfully, Día de los Muertos is a great example that highlights the difference between appreciating different cultures and cultural appropriation. If you have a relative who can show you what it's all about, that's a great way to learn about and experience a different culture. The danger is in a superficial understanding of the holiday, and assuming that because it involves skeletons, costumes, death, and it's close to Halloween that it's kind of like Halloween - that's when a superficial celebrating of Día de los Muertos starts to become cultural appropriation. Because (and I'm not trying to single you out or anything) there's a general sense that it's kinda like Halloween, but really Día de los Muertos is not Halloween.

Thanks, and thanks for the other responses, too. Sorry for using the shorthand about it being like Halloween - I appreciate the difference, but I think the similarities to Halloween are important here because it exposes this other axis of corporatism/commercialization that is involved in the anxiety over appropriation. Because people look at other holidays (e.g. Halloween, Christmas) whose spiritual core has been co-opted by the corporate world and see that happening to previously protected things (e.g. DdLm, kimchi). As the article you linked says, DdLM is not like Halloween mostly because Halloween has already been completely thoroughly Americanized, not because the origins of the two holidays come from fundamentally different impulses. Anyway, thanks again, thinking about who benefits from participation or appreciation of a different culture is helpful to me.
posted by one_bean at 10:22 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


The last few years here in San Francisco's Mission District, where I've lived since 2001, I've been increasingly bummed about Día de los Muertos. Each year, there seem to be more and more people who treat it as an opportunity to show off their costume and makeup skills, who treat it like a cocktail party. It gets harder every year to find the physical and psychic space where I - we - can remember the people we've loved and lost and miss. When I am walking in the march, I don't want to feel angry and resentful towards people who are treating it like a party, like an opportunity to see and be seen. Some of that is on me, yes. A lot of it, frankly, isn't.

Some years, it's been rainy, and the crowds have been thinner. I've been grateful for those years.
posted by rtha at 10:24 PM on October 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


This is amazing. I just learned *quite* a bit (like everything about DdLM) and I'm just so glad y'all are here. Thank you for sharing.
posted by Ashen at 10:30 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


re Putin/Bush wearing áo gấm.

"I'm not sure why you brought that up"

I am and said as to why. The paradox lies in these garmets being symbols of wealth and beauty, something privledged classes enjoy/ed as any quick search will explain. I take humour in the paradox, not the tradition or Bushs' arm extension thing were he looks like he has a Colt .45 shoulder holster.
posted by clavdivs at 11:09 PM on October 21, 2015


Long thread, but:

Concerning the kimono issue, the more time passes, the more I see it as really being an argument between Japanese and Japanese-Americans. Sure, there were also white folks and Asian-Americans from non-Japanese backgrounds, but kimonos aren't their culture, so I'm prone to just ignore their opinions, just like if a bunch of Native Americans were discussing headdresses, I'd listen to what they had to say and tune out non-Native Americans.

Okay, so you've got, generally speaking, Japanese-Americans on one side, and Japanese on the other side. And from what I've gathered, when there's disagreement about appropriation, the historically unprivileged side gets to make the decision. But when it's Japanese-Americans vs. Japanese, I've got no idea how to do the math. Do we look at their history in the US, or around the world? Last 100 years? As long as there have been Japanese in America? As long as there have been Japanese on earth?

Honestly, I don't think there is a correct answer. It's not "Group A thinks it's appropriation, Group B thinks it isn't, and the correct answer is: Group A (or Group B)" It's simply "Group A thinks it's appropriation. Group B thinks it isn't. The end."
posted by Bugbread at 11:09 PM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


chatongriffes: I (a white lady) was having a conversation about this very topic with two of my girlfriends (one is native American and the other is Indian). One of them was working on a dance that incorporated some flamenco and she was worrying about appropriation. The other responded that she didn't feel bad about taking or using anything that historically belonged to a country that was an oppressor and not an oppressee. Somehow that made sense in my head as a metric.

Given that a) flamenco is born of the mixing of Romani traditions (originally from India) with the Arabic-influenced folk dance and songs from Andalucía, b) for a few decades there has been an important experimental current of flamenco fusión that fuses flamenco with music from the Maghreb or things like flamenco jazz, c) even the signifiers from flamenco are imports, folding fans coming from Japan and the fringed silk shawls being traditionally produced in China and imported through Manila, I'd think that your friend was worrying a bit too much.

jb: But I also think one of the things that contributes to English/Anglo power is how our language and culture has been embraced and adopted around the world - and if I were say, China, I would actively encourage the adoption of Chinese language and culture elsewhere, even if only as fashion markers, because that would increase my cultural influence and soft power.

That's what the Confucius Institute is for, just like the Goethe-Institut, the Instituto Cervantes, the Dante Alighieri Society or the Alliance Française.
posted by sukeban at 11:23 PM on October 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


(Flamenco is, coincidentally, one of the fixations that Japanese people have with Spain, with Antoni Gaudí as a distant second. There's even a manga about bullfighters by est em, Golondrina.)
posted by sukeban at 11:27 PM on October 21, 2015


one_bean: "I have a close relative by marriage who grew up in Mexico and now lives in northeast U.S. He's been posting on Facebook about how happy he is that more white folks are into Dia de Los Muertos stuff because it means his kids will get to experience it around Halloween and learn a little more about where he's from and his culture."

I'm just sharing this as an anecdote, not to make a Greater Point, nor to recast this thread of conversation to be about White People. Just something your comment brought to mind: Halloween is becoming a bigger deal in Japan, and the Americans I've talked to about it are very happy, because it allows us to share the Halloween experience with our kids. True, there is no door-to-door trick-or-treating, but a big shopping center has started doing trick-or-treating, and I love that I can take my kids in costume and have them go door to door and say "trick-or-treat" and get candy and sometimes get scared by staff in spooky costumes and the whole shebang.
posted by Bugbread at 11:34 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


... argument between Japanese and Japanese-Americans ...

I can only speak for Chinese, but perhaps this will map, in parts.

I think Chinese nationals living either in the short or long term in the US tend to be fairly affluent, privileged, advantaged individuals or families who, for many reasons not solely focused on race (think socioeconomic privilege, demographic privilege, etc.) may look down on the less advantaged Chinese-Americans (who may not have the privilege to live in both China and in the US).

In many cases, as I've remarked and observed before, Chinese (nationals and older folks) tend to be hella racist, especially against other minorities, including within their own communities. Part of the assimilationist drive that the older Chinese-Americans have and that rich, privileged, dual-country-living Chinese nationals have to succeed in assimilation equates, in many of their minds, to succeeding in business and networking, I think, works against the social justice/activist tendencies and drives some of the younger generations have to struggle for equal treatment under the law. In fact, and I know this for a fact both in my own family as well as friends' families, that the "Huxtable" type assimilation is a pleasurable fantasy for some elders while their heirs find it repugnant. And in many instances, this moving in harmony with existing racist dynamics and tropes lends authenticity to those patterns (because white folks will point to it as an example or justification for the prejudice/bias).

In my opinion when folks outside of disagreements, especially white or other very privileged, majority folks align their political positions with the more privileged, more traditional, more assimilationist arguments, they are participating in a subtle form of racism. This is where bias and prejudice works in harmony with institutionalized racism to reinforce those biased systems of government, policy, cultural and behavioral expectations, and so on (all the things Aamer Rahman talks about in his Reverse Racism skit) to our great detriment.

I think that leaving such struggles to the proposed solely interested parties is a disingenuous and sort of sneaky way of letting institutionalized racism happen and get a little boost from supposed authorities among the people of color who are disagreeing.

I don't think you have to be Japanese to have a valid opinion about this specific instance of cultural appropriation (but certainly you should engage respectfully), and I think that the many reasons and explanations and personal stories and background Asians and specifically Japanese folks (as well as many allies) in this thread have expressed should be enough to be able to fuel your own research on the subject and have and volunteer an opinion, and participate in the discussion, to the betterment of this world and MetaFilter and the people within it. I think that stepping back and claiming you can't understand it is kind of irresponsible, and I don't approve.

And also note that many folks commenting (from Asian perspectives too) are not just choosing one side or another. Some folks (like me) are telling interestingly nuanced stories with lots of room for choosing middle grounds, for seeing our experiences with borrowing and appropriation from many perspectives and in equally valid ways. This need not always be an either-or question with either-or answers. Please give us room for subtlety, and please make room in your mind and your heart for complex answers of your own.
posted by kalessin at 11:49 PM on October 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


Oh, and if you want to see flamenco mixed up with Bollywood, here's the video for "Señorita" from the movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which was talked about around here because they bothered to place the running of the bulls scene in the right streets in Pamplona, unlike every Hollywood production ever, bless them :D
posted by sukeban at 11:50 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sure, there were also white folks and Asian-Americans from non-Japanese backgrounds, but kimonos aren't their culture, so I'm prone to just ignore their opinions, just like if a bunch of Native Americans were discussing headdresses, I'd listen to what they had to say and tune out non-Native Americans.

Along with what kalessin said about complexity and nuance, this analogy is flawed because you're making some assumptions about in- and out-groups that are neither internally consistent nor align with how members of those groups experience racism. I mean, for one thing, you're treating all Native Americans regardless of cultural/tribal affiliation as a single group equivalent to Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans, which is weird and off-base.

Secondly, although it's gotten better over the course of my life*, "Asian monolith" anxiety is pervasive and many white Americans (and in my experience white Europeans) still mentally conflate all of East and Southeast Asia as China-Japan-and-some-other-places-that-are-basically-like-China-and-Japan. As a result, there are a lot of shared stereotypes and assumptions, and racism towards one particular nationality or culture can still have blowback for other Asian Americans.

I'm not going to take a stance on the Boston exhibit specifically, but speaking in general the exotification and frequently sexualization of the kimono does affect me as an Asian (but not Japanese) American woman. The stereotype of demure but sexually available geishas is not exactly the same as the stereotype of demure but sexually available Vietnamese peasant girls, but creepy dudes don't make those kinds of distinctions when they're being creepy.

Absolutely there are conversations to be had between Asian Americans about the line between backing each other up versus erasing the different cultural context of different communities, but if you're an outsider it's best not to make assumptions about who's allowed to have a voice in a particular debate.

*While I was growing up people would do this mental find-and-replace thing where I would tell them I'm half-Vietnamese, and they would consistently remember this as me being half-Japanese.
posted by bettafish at 5:03 AM on October 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


Halloween has already been completely thoroughly Americanized

Halloween as we know it is really a product of American pop cultural history. Its religious origins are so distant that even in Halloween's nascent form in the U.S., it was never a significant religious festival. All Saints' and All Souls' Day have a degree of importance in the Catholic and Episcopal Churches but are clearly distinct from the pop-secular celebrations of Halloween, and just as distinct even from historical celebrations of All Hallow's Eve which are the ostensible root of Halloween, but from which it has evolved so much as to be unrecognizable as the same observance.

I think, because of this, Halloween is a good example of a celebration that is not sacred and not something most participants in American culture would think of as a protected cultural tradition that should not be appropriated. Its celebration is open for sharing and spreading, and most Americans greet that prospect gleefully, just as they have embraced the holiday's growth in popular culture over the past century. I see that it can become a problem as commodified versions of Halloween enter other cultures and threaten to stamp out other cultural expressions and Americanize them for profit, but the risk there is not to American traditions but the traditions in the places the holiday is arriving, which indeed sounds potentially problematic depending on what it may be displacing or hybridizing with there and how its commodification can disrupt the economy and siphon funds from the community it is entering to distant corporations. But as far as Americans are concerned, there is nothing of the sacred, serious, or culturally defining to protect about Halloween.

Again, one response to the kind of hyperbolic handwringing we see in reactionary op-eds and among anxious white people is that not all exchange is harmful appropriation. There are all kinds of exchanges and all kinds of effects and we can place our attention on the negative effects and discuss them without needing to declare that any and all cultural material of others is off limits always.

Also, because this is a discussion about appropriation I wanted to acknowledge that I got the idea of using the Purple Heart in training conversations from SJWiki and lots of my thinking on appropriation from the Native Appropriations blog and resources it has pointed me to.
posted by Miko at 5:58 AM on October 22, 2015 [12 favorites]


I think what it boils down to is that everything is context dependent, so the exact same actions by the exact same groups of people can be okay in one place and not in another.

I mean, in one sense, that's really fucking obvious. There are cultures where it's okay to touch peoples' heads, and cultures where that's incredibly rude. But when it comes to social justicy issues, there is a tendency among some people (like myself) to reflexively think that a bad thing is bad everywhere. But I think in reality, some are, and some aren't.

Insulting someone on the basis of their race, for example, is one of those "bad everywhere" things. But it appears that a white person wearing a kimono in the US is a bad thing, while that same white person could put on that same kimono here in Japan, and it wouldn't be bad at all. That isn't an indicator of hypocrisy or paradox or anything. It's not some kind of sign that means "well, this obviously can't be true, so which one is it really, good or bad?" It's because local folks get to call the shots. In the US the issue is how it makes Asian-Americans feel. The way people in Japan feels doesn't really matter. And in Japan the issue is how it makes Japanese people feel. The way people in the US feels doesn't really matter.
posted by Bugbread at 6:32 AM on October 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


One thing I never see picked up in this is quite how much of an outlier the United States is when it comes to patterns of cultural appropriation and therefore how much of an outlier discourse in the United States is. Just taking music as an example, from minstrel shows through "Muddy Waters? Where's that?" and Elvis to Miley Cyrus wanting a black sound for her new song, I can not think of a case where one culture lives on top of another culture and tries to steal everything nice it comes up with while erasing or mocking the origins to quite the same extent and with quite the same degree of systematisation. It's closer to a repeated cultural mugging or even persistent cultural parasitism than it is when e.g. western style angels show up in anime or manga.

And this means that the discourse in America is very different on the subject of cultural appropriation than it is in most countries. Using the kimono as an example, the Japanese kimono manufacturers are saying "A little drink does everyone good from time to time" while the Japanese Americans are saying "Do not give the violent drunkard any alcohol." And a lot of Americans (from a diverse range of backgrounds) are arguing for tea totalism due to first hand experience of a violent alcoholic.
posted by Francis at 6:48 AM on October 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


where one culture lives on top of another culture and tries to steal everything nice it comes up with while erasing or mocking the origins

For me there are examples everywhere in current and historical world contexts. It seems to be expected and constant that conquering and occupying forces do this.

Though I do agree that we from the USA seem to be particularly talented at forgetting history and humility and decency when being so culturally imperial.
posted by kalessin at 7:06 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


there is a tendency among some people (like myself) to reflexively think that a bad thing is bad everywhere. But I think in reality, some are, and some aren't.

To be honest, this has often struck me as a kind of variation of Engineer's Disease, where some people are looking for final definitive answers and solutions for situations that don't have them. In its most simplistic form, this is where we get things like, "We have a black President and a woman who may well be our next President, how can you say that America is racist/sexist?"

But it appears that a white person wearing a kimono in the US is a bad thing,

You're kind of doing that again, here, though - the point of the protesters in Boston wasn't "white people wearing kimonos is bad", but that there are ways to allow museum visitors to try on kimonos that would be more respectful than the way the museum originally presented it. As kalessin pointed out above, it's not an either/or situation, you need to allow room for flexibility and subtlety and compromise.

Okay, so you've got, generally speaking, Japanese-Americans on one side, and Japanese on the other side.

What I noticed was more of a conflict between generations - older Japanese and Japanese-Americans were more approving of the Boston museum having an exhibit at all, while the younger generations were seeing the problematic aspects of the exhibit.


Which is to say, It's simply "Group A thinks it's appropriation. Group B thinks it isn't. The end." is, again, too simplistic, too invested in looking for a definitive answer. It's not The End - there may never be AN answer, because this is an evolving situation that will continue to evolve long after you and I are dead.

Which is not an excuse to just throw up our hands and say, "Welp, there's no answer, we should just give up looking for a solution to the problem." But a lot of people need to stop thinking of social and cultural conflicts and problems as being analogous to an engine that won't start, where if you could just find the right part or bang on the thing in the right place the problem would be solved and we can all dust our hands off and move on to the next thing. Solving social and cultural issues is a process, and likely a long-term process.

And I think where we (as Anglo/Euro/Americans) are right now in this process is just at the start of recognizing that we should be listening to the opinions and experiences of the people whose cultures may be being appropriated - that we don't have the final say in defining "appropriation", and that often the discussion about defining "appropriation" needs to happen amongst and between the people who are members of that culture, with little or no input from us.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:22 AM on October 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


soundguy99: "You're kind of doing that again, here, though - the point of the protesters in Boston wasn't "white people wearing kimonos is bad", but that there are ways to allow museum visitors to try on kimonos that would be more respectful than the way the museum originally presented it."

Sorry, I was just trying to be brief. I meant "Having visitors put on kimonos and take photos in front of paintings of white people dressed in kimonos as orientalist exotica, without providing greater context, is bad in the US".

soundguy99: "Which is to say, It's simply "Group A thinks it's appropriation. Group B thinks it isn't. The end." is, again, too simplistic, too invested in looking for a definitive answer."

I don't know how you interpreted that as being invested in looking for a definitive answer. I was trying to say the exact opposite. I mean, I literally said, "Honestly, I don't think there is a correct answer." I used "the end" to just mean "there is no step that consists of identifying the definitive answer in this case. This issue does not, at present, and perhaps ever, end with 'and the correct answer is X'."

soundguy99: "And I think where we (as Anglo/Euro/Americans) are right now in this process is just at the start of recognizing that we should be listening to the opinions and experiences of the people whose cultures may be being appropriated - that we don't have the final say in defining "appropriation", and that often the discussion about defining "appropriation" needs to happen amongst and between the people who are members of that culture, with little or no input from us."

I...wait, that's exactly what I said I was doing, and that behavior was called sneaky disingenuous racism.

Like, have I suddenly become incapable of expressing myself? No sarcasm here. You're disagreeing with me by saying the same thing I'm trying to say. And looking at comment favorites, it appears that people who disagree with me are agreeing with you, but what you're saying is what I thought I was saying.

I'm sober and well-rested, (though it is nearing bedtime) so this is actually starting to worry me a bit.
posted by Bugbread at 7:58 AM on October 22, 2015


I meant "Having visitors put on kimonos and take photos in front of paintings of white people dressed in kimonos as orientalist exotica, without providing greater context, is bad in the US".

That's actually one of the better summaries of the protesters' point that I have read.
posted by maxsparber at 8:01 AM on October 22, 2015 [12 favorites]


I wonder if the "who benefits" test can be useful here.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:38 AM on October 22, 2015


It absolutely can.
posted by kalessin at 8:40 AM on October 22, 2015


Briefly tracking back to Dia De Los Muertos for a minute...for a while I wrote about rock en espanol and punk/alternative/indie music from Central and South America, but due to time constraints I haven't had time to continue writing about it. If I had the opportunity to get back into it, I would have to think long and hard about returning to that well, because it could mean that I'd take a job away from someone of that background who would have better insight into the music and culture and be better positioned to write about the music from an in-group cultural standpoint.

The look-but-don't-touch attitude extends to Dia De Los Muertos. As a White person, I feel as uncomfortable at a DDLM party when other White people show up in sugar-skull makeup as I would at a Halloween party if a White person attended in a war bonnet. Sugar skull makeup is something that represents the people of the Central and South American countries, and for me to put it on feels like crossing a line and fully participating in a celebration that ultimately isn't mine. I have no problem attending, admiring the shrines, and enjoying pan de muertos, but that kind of active participation just feels wrong to me. I know other Mexican-American people have expressed discomfort in seeing White people don ceremonial garb, and the least I can do is respect that.
posted by pxe2000 at 9:21 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


To be honest, this has often struck me as a kind of variation of Engineer's Disease, where some people are looking for final definitive answers and solutions for situations that don't have them.

I've sometimes mused in the past along the lines of that 'variation of Engineer's Disease' you mention, that if taken to a possible extreme, might be a hidden explanation of why its so common to see everyone in a story/book/movie set in the future wearing bland, vaguely similar jumpsuits (save for a few at the far extremes of the social order). There's a certain logic to the idea that as technology changes and advances, becoming more structured and ordered, over time it would have a significant, complimentary structure/order effects on the society as well. Societal/cultural problems would eventually be addressed in the same manner any technological problem would be. Jumpsuits seem to be a possible outcome of a incredibly technologically-based civilization suffering from the most advanced stages of Engineer's Disease.

Soundguy99, you've given me interesting perspective to try when looking at this and other involved, complicated, long threads.
posted by chambers at 9:38 AM on October 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


One thing I never see picked up in this is quite how much of an outlier the United States is when it comes to patterns of cultural appropriation and therefore how much of an outlier discourse in the United States is. Just taking music as an example, from minstrel shows through "Muddy Waters? Where's that?" and Elvis to Miley Cyrus wanting a black sound for her new song, I can not think of a case where one culture lives on top of another culture and tries to steal everything nice it comes up with while erasing or mocking the origins to quite the same extent and with quite the same degree of systematisation. It's closer to a repeated cultural mugging or even persistent cultural parasitism than it is when e.g. western style angels show up in anime or manga.


I think it relates to the long running tradition of cultural isolationism for the US as a country, which plays out in all sorts of ways. Think of how many non-US english language TV shows and movies get re-made for the American audience. On the Quora thread, I was hopefully pointing out tiny examples of American-centric sites not being quite as american centric, but, basically, I was wrong (or overly hopeful).
But then there is the problem - the only way to really resolve that is if there is increasing acceptance for cultural diversity within the US. People actually being interested in other people's languages, cultures, etc - without being driven to 'repackage' it for a (white!) 'American audience'.

But that's exactly where it gets stuck in this double bind. Because cultural exchange has been done so badly in the past, there's the presumption that ANY interest is suspicious, and exploitative.
Does anyone remember the Ask Mefi question where someone was worried that their brother was being racist, because there was a photo of him in China, wearing a common style of hat (common there), making a common 'greeting' handsign, with the text 'Ni Hao'?
I mean, that's... the opposite of racist? That's being culturally immersive. That is when in Rome, do as Romans?
I think it's people seeing the righteous outrage at having your culture stripped down, repackaged, monetised by whites, for whites - but they seem to have missed the why. That it's the exploitation that is offensive. That if the same material is presented in a non-exploitative context, BY the culture it came from, it's... not exploitative?

So, I do get worried every time there is a freakout about white european descent kids getting into J-pop, African-American music (as presented by African-American artists, rather than the frequently-better-selling white repackage), or anything that ISN'T 'white' dominated, I'm always a little worried, because I usually presume that at least half the outrage is from out and out racists.
The traditional, 'I don't want your culture touching my culture and corrupting my kids' kind.
And that's a REALLY tricky balance to get.
Cultural isolationism is definitely not LESS racist than cultural appropriation, they are both racist.

However, I genuinely feel like the latter is like a later or lesser stage of racism than the former.
It's what happens when people with no cultural context BECAUSE of isolationism, and insufficient respect, try to make other cultures more 'palatable' for themselves (because yes, it's still an exploitative, 'consuming' metaphor), but it's kind of a case where the only way out is though.
More information, not less, not backtracking to a more culturally isolationist stance, but respecting enough to take it straight from the source, not regurgitating.

Also, I loved conspire's comment earlier, but I gotta disagree with "White dude spewing gratuitous Chinese everywhere?".
That it brought home the ways you and others have been penalised for speaking non-English languages, is powerful, and hugely unfair - but it's the act of not being able to speak another language that is racist, not someone white learning that language.
Learning a language is one of THE most powerful ways to respect a culture. So much of a culture is in the language, and so much of Western cultural imperialism has been imperialism of LANGUAGE. White people need to learn other peoples languages, because some kind of separate but equal is never equal, it just means the home ground is defined, yet again, in English-Western terms.

We are racist because of the culture we live in, even (especially) against ourselves, we are also anti-racist because of the culture we live in and the people we choose to be.
We have both these conflicting impulses in us.
This means the danger lies, in that sometimes the path of least resistance is Cultural Isolationism, because it's an action that satisfies both racist impulses, and the anti-racist impulses. But it's a false win, two drinking fountains, and it makes no progress.
Sometimes I just play a mental exercise of, would a hard core racist, rather than a 'culturally appropriative' racist feel about whole thing? So for Kimono, that they shouldn't be doing that, because white people should know their place, blah blah blah, and shouldn't be trying to look like 'Japanese' (ok, we'll just fail to fill in the actual insults'). For authors, that they shouldn't be writing about non-white people, etc.
Ironically, I kind of use this as a general metric - if it would make the terribly racist in a community happy, it's probably not the right action.
Then you have to go to the second layer - culturally appropriative, stereotyped, all the rest of it. So secondly layer of evaluation, what's an action that won't make the stereotypical racist happy, but will also be more respectful? Mutual? Educational and progressive?


* BTW, I feel super awkward about using the terms white/coloured etc, because in my country, those are not the common/accepted/respectful terms (and neither is caucasian), so I'm doing a tiny bit of cultural translation for the mefi audience, and if I've used them incorrectly/insensitively, let me know.
posted by Elysum at 10:45 AM on October 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


> Which minority is now previously dis-empowered?

Most of 'em, max, most of 'em.

"I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too."
posted by jfuller at 10:53 AM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


* BTW, I feel super awkward about using the terms white/coloured etc, because in my country, those are not the common/accepted/respectful terms (and neither is caucasian), so I'm doing a tiny bit of cultural translation for the mefi audience, and if I've used them incorrectly/insensitively, let me know.

If you feel comfortable sharing, what are the respectful terms in your country?
posted by Deoridhe at 12:45 PM on October 22, 2015


Native Americans Try On "Indian" Halloween Costumes

Japanese Women Try On "Geisha" Halloween Costumes

Both use that flavor of Buzzfeed video editing, but both are pretty great.

(If these were already posted, sorry I missed them)
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:04 PM on October 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


Actually, the crappy Mexican costumes video is great too.
posted by sukeban at 1:12 PM on October 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Please note that "colored" is considered highly disrespectful and archaic in the US. "People of color" should be used as a whole phrase, and not broken into component words. Not every minority in the US is real happy with the phrase "people of color" but we live with it because it's a compromise that seems to work as a catch-all term for all non-whites people in the US for the most part. But again, we're usually aware it's not ideal - we use it because it works well enough.
posted by kalessin at 1:30 PM on October 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have never understood the chopsticks in the hair thing that people started doing. I mean, yeah, it's a stick, you can put your hair around it, but when I see it it's like watching Ariel comb her hair with a fork.

And at least she gets the benefit of my doubt because she's an idiot who trades her voice for legs over a stupid boy.
posted by qcubed at 1:32 PM on October 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Spanish" costumes also seem to fall short of the kind of traje de flamenca you'd see at the feria de abril, never mind that the rest of the country is not Andalucía (but then, one of the most famous movies in Spanish cinema is about a Castilian village that decides to get an Andalusian makeover to attract Marshall Plan funds from the Americans).
posted by sukeban at 1:35 PM on October 22, 2015


"I have never understood the chopsticks in the hair thing that people started doing."

Hair sticks have been around for a long time. People started to use chopsticks since its the same basic shape but cheaper to get.
posted by I-baLL at 3:00 PM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thanks Kalessin, urgh, sorry, should have caught that. I apologise.
I think it's partly because I was writing about terms that DO already sound disrespectful to my ear, and wouldn't have used it in regards to a person or group.

If you feel comfortable sharing, what are the respectful terms in your country?

People are much more specific about ethnic origin if possible.

{TLDR, I was really tired and rambled, feel free to ignore}

Caucasian isn't really used, except through familiarity with American cop shows (technically it's people from the Caucasus mountains, isn't it?).

If you're of European descent, European New Zealander/New Zealand European.
People frequently pitch a fit and say they weren't born in Europe, they're just a New Zealander, blah blah blah, and then it's usually pointed out the same goes for Chinese New Zealanders etc (so suck it up).
You'd generally only specify German/Swedish/English etc if they're first generation, speak the language etc, so that's an example of disparity.
At least 15% of European NZers use/prefer the term Pakeha, which is the Maori word for New Zealand Europeans. It's a general marker for being younger, left-wing or having ties to Maori culture if you identify as Pakeha. Identifying as of (usually) European descent in a uniquely New Zealand way. Conversely, it's a bit of a racist dogwhistle to claim that Pakeha is an insulting term, etc.
If someone has a lot of Samoan/Pacific Island friends, they might call themselves Palangi as a joke.

You basically describe someone's actual ethnic origin if you can, so Bic Runga is a Maori/Chinese New Zealander (or Chinese-Malay Mother, Maori Father, etc etc).
If you don't know, or a talking in broad terms, then it's Asian, Pacific, African New Zealander.

Asian as a broad term includes Indian subcontinent, but it usually means more South-East Asian, as people would be more likely to say Indian if they think someone is Indian (they could be Pakistani etc, so I'm saying that a misidentification might be pretty common).

A Maori New Zealander is pretty much always 'mixed race', with a bit of European, but you'd basically identify as Maori, Pakeha or European New Zealander depending on how you are identified externally, and identify yourself internally.
If you were speaking in Maori, you wouldn't really refer to yourself as 'part' Maori, because it's a cultural identifier. If you're only a tiny genetic proportion maori, if you're adopted maori, you have the right to call yourself Maori - if you want (it also literally means 'ordinary', so you'd actually introduce yourself with your tribal/iwi affiliation, such as Ngati Po. And given that example is a tribe no ones ever heard of, you'd just say Tainui, for your super-tribe/waka/boat affiliation).
I would alternate between all three depending on context, generally pakeha/european for how I am identified, and Maori when relating to Maori culture.

Maori can be grouped with Pacific/ Pacific Islanders (Samoan, Tongan, etc), but in practice people will break it out if at all possible - being the native people of New Zealand.

Same measure, you'd generally describe someone as Somalian rather than African, if you knew.

Basically, it's a very new country. Almost everyone is from somewhere else, but you kind of know where.

Black/Brown/White from a European New Zealander especially? Sounds a little bit racist (garden variety, doesn't pay attention at the mildest?). You'd pretty much only use them as a slightly ironic/reclaiming in-group term, say 'Brown Pride' from Pacific Islanders. 'Yellow' would be especially entirely bad historical associations with the 'yellow peril' of early 20th century, but its not a term I've ever heard used out loud.

You wouldn't refer to anyone as 'Coloured'. Or Person of Colour, or POC (double checked with Google, and it's just completely unused).
The equivalent term might be Non-European New Zealander?


So, you're either as specific as you can be, or you don't refer to their background. You'd also be less likely to refer to someone's ethnic background as a one word descriptor. So, I noticed the Tiger Woods, he was frequently referred to as a black golfer. Any super-star athlete would just be identified as Kiwi, the better to bask in the reflected national pride (e.g. Jonah Lomu of Tongan ethnicity, pretty much always identified as Kiwi). If Tiger Woods was a kiwi, I think pretty much all the biography pieces would be probably be pointing out that his mother was part Chinese and Dutch, Thai, and his father part Chinese and American Indian (but which tribe?), African-American, so basically would probably be extremely clunky. His Asian heritage would be recognised more, given that is a larger ethnic minority here.


So yeah, I pretty much always want to refer to 'white' Americans as European Americans, and have to remember, different culture! So I'm codeswitching when I write here.

Woah. That was way, way too long. Sorry, tired.
Short-form, racism and cultural sensitivity is very country specific.
posted by Elysum at 3:02 PM on October 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


qcubed: "I have never understood the chopsticks in the hair thing that people started doing. I mean, yeah, it's a stick, you can put your hair around it, but when I see it it's like watching Ariel comb her hair with a fork."

I would assume it comes from kanzashi. While most kanzashi are somewhat (or very) decorative, and wouldn't be mistaken for chopsticks, there are also some very simple kanzashi, which easily could, especially if worn as a pair.
posted by Bugbread at 3:04 PM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Woah. That was way, way too long. Sorry, tired.

I appreciate it, personally.

"I have never understood the chopsticks in the hair thing that people started doing. I mean, yeah, it's a stick, you can put your hair around it, but when I see it it's like watching Ariel comb her hair with a fork."

I picked it up as a slightly neater version of a pencil, and a less-likely-to-leave-ink version of the pen. I also use paint brushes if I find them, and in a pinch I have actually used knifes (as in bread knifes). I also own actual, steel stilettos, and bunches of sticks specifically meant to be hair sticks. It's a fast, easy, very solid, and usually not quite so hair-pully means of getting your hair up out of your way quickly (I can bun and stick my hair in under 30 seconds). I think they're less common elsewhere these days because by and large women no longer grow their hair as long (for a variety of reasons) and rubber bands can be very useful.
posted by Deoridhe at 4:01 PM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the issue though is that many Asians would never think of using chopsticks specifically because they're for FOOD. And for me at least when a white person uses a chopstick as a hair arranging product, it indicates to me a certain kind of thoughtlessness born of privilege to be able to use a chopstick as a hair accessory.

I think that the cognitive dissonance may be explained a little by this little bit of sarcasm done by an Asian woman. (FWIW, she is, as most Chinese immigrants to the U.S. are, Taishanese, or Hoisanese, as I am as well. I wouldn't be totally surprised to know she is a distant relative of some sort.)
posted by kalessin at 4:42 PM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I wasn't disagreeing.
posted by Bugbread at 4:47 PM on October 22, 2015


So, like, no shit hair sticks have been used forever. That's not what my comment was alluding to.

The comment provided by kalessin strikes much closer to what I was pointing out, and the why is better answered by what Bugbread and Deoridhe were saying.

I mean, I guess I was't clear, but I was hoping the context of the discussion would have hinted at where I was going with it. Particularly with the reference to The Little Mermaid.
posted by qcubed at 4:52 PM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Elysum, thanks for the NZ primer. I'm going to keep talking in terms of a US (with a side of European) framework because that's my experience. I realize not everything translates but hopefully most of it does. Re: your previous comment:

Also, I loved conspire's comment earlier, but I gotta disagree with "White dude spewing gratuitous Chinese everywhere?".
That it brought home the ways you and others have been penalised for speaking non-English languages, is powerful, and hugely unfair - but it's the act of not being able to speak another language that is racist, not someone white learning that language.


So I'm not Conspire, but that sentence of yours I bolded is exactly how I understood his statement and similar statements I've heard from other Asian Americans over the years. Learning a foreign language is great! Learning a foreign language and ostentatiously showing off your knowledge as a status symbol to show how cool and open-minded you are is conspicuous consumption of another culture. And a lot of these people get 'splainy and patronizing towards the people who've been cut off from that culture, so that's another thing.

...but it's kind of a case where the only way out is though.

So, I see what you're saying in terms of, "this is how things are going to evolve as a broader social trend," and it's not untrue, but it doesn't absolve white people from personal accountability. The only reason people of color have to suffer through more racism while white people well-meaningly muddle around is that white people persist in tuning them out. Framing this as "well, it sucks, but we've just gotta pull through" is passing the buck and putting an extra burden on people of color to be patient and suffer gracefully (and quietly) under the auspices of communal feeling. And while that's happening, white people get really upset over the mere possibility that someone might see them as being (mildly, unintentionally) racist.

More information, not less, not backtracking to a more culturally isolationist stance, but respecting enough to take it straight from the source, not regurgitating.

I mean, yeah, but as has been reiterated over and over, people who are affected by cultural appropriation are not calling for cultural isolation -- we're the same ones who face racism in culturally isolated societies! That's exactly why, as Conspire pointed out in the very comment you quoted from, it's so upsetting when white people take aspects of our cultures that they mock and punish us for trying to express and turn them into instagram trends.

This "cultural isolation" thing is a strawman on the order of "feminists think men and women should be treated as though they're identical!" and it is incredibly frustrating to me that people keep trotting this out on a forum where the community prides itself on critical thinking, despite the number of times it has been explained in this thread why this is a fallacy.

Sometimes I just play a mental exercise of, would a hard core racist, rather than a 'culturally appropriative' racist feel about whole thing?

I'm really confused by this and the examples you cite because according to your metric, white racists don't like white people wearing kimonos, so we should let white people wear kimonos so as not to play into their hands. But in your first comment in the thread you gave a very clear explanation of cultural context and why white Americans wearing kimono can be a problem, so... I genuinely, non-snarkily don't understand how this metric is useful to you when even you don't seem to use it (without getting into the potential problems of allowing white racists to dictate the terms of conversations about and between PoC).

I think a better tactic would be to listen to people who are talking about their own culture and own experiences and recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all flow chart that allows definitively and universally to determine what is or isn't appropriation.

Yes, this means that with the most care and mindfulness in the world you (general you, not singling out Elysum) might still stumble on someone else's cultural nuances, and it sucks and is embarrassing, but that's not a reason not to keep working at it or to write people off as oversensitive or reactionary because you don't get where they're coming from.

I'm sorry if I'm coming off as repetitive or snarky here, but I really feel that the Asian Americans and other PoC in this thread have been finding different ways to articulate the same points over and over again and keep getting ignored or "but-what-about?"-ed to death, or until they leave and the conversation about them goes on without them. The specific examples are complicated, but the general principles are not that hard to grasp and I'm honestly boggled at the extent to which we -- and even our white allies to some extent! -- are being talked past and over. I've been on MeFi for more than seven years now, and even while I was a lurker I don't think I've ever felt so invisible.
posted by bettafish at 4:53 PM on October 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm really confused by this and the examples you cite because according to your metric, white racists don't like white people wearing kimonos, so we should let white people wear kimonos so as not to play into their hands. But in your first comment in the thread you gave a very clear explanation of cultural context and why white Americans wearing kimono can be a problem, so... I genuinely, non-snarkily don't understand how this metric is useful to you when even you don't seem to use it (without getting into the potential problems of allowing white racists to dictate the terms of conversations about and between PoC).

Waaaay too late in the evening for me to be replying.

So, the larger points that we seemed to be clearer on/agree on, were my main points. Why it's a problem, etc.
The later stuff is the complicating nuances, if that more makes sense. 201 versus 101.

I thought we'd moved on to talking about cultural appropriation as a wider issue, not a specific instance, and was interested, well, how to get to there, being respectful cultural diversity, from here, which is... not?

The metric I was referring is only the first-pass. It's just a metric to consider, because y'know how sometimes there's a tendency to want to decide between two choices, rather than considering that a third or a fourth option is not only available, but might be more correct?

To use a rather lame analogy, say someone is producing a movie script or writing a book, and they've inserted a trite, stereotyped portrayal of a particular ethnicity, which someone calls them out on. Maybe they themselves call it out, in their own head (progress!).
What do they do? First, easy option - it's tempting to pull the entire character. I don't even know why this is a thing, but it clearly is, it's the systemic, structural racism (and sexism, and most of the other isms). Invisibility is fucking death though, and just perpetuates the same toxic systems. It's the easy and wrong option.
So second pass, representation is harder to do right, but that makes it more important. So you do more research, get outside opinions, get into dialogue, and actually have the cojones to show a more diverse and wider representation.
Maybe you articulate in what context you could be championing more cultural diversity, and why you maybe just don't have the right situation/context this time.
For example, if this exhibition had had the opportunity for the public to try wearing a Kimono, that would probably have been fine. Because it is Kimono in context, in japanese culture, of well, clothes you wear. While the monet artwork exhibition unfortunately presented it much closer to the cultural historical context of westerners dressing up as an exoticised, fetished other. Different!

Sorry for any misunderstanding there.

I'm really not sure I'm being clear enough now, because I'm super tired, but in short, if that post didn't make much sense, but the earlier ones did, then I want to be clear that I wasn't intending to contradict my earlier posts.
posted by Elysum at 5:36 PM on October 22, 2015


The metric I was referring is only the first-pass. It's just a metric to consider, because y'know how sometimes there's a tendency to want to decide between two choices, rather than considering that a third or a fourth option is not only available, but might be more correct?

I don't really understand that tendency at all, nor do I think it's a good tendency. I think if something's important, people should want to understand the nuances involved in order to make a good decision, instead of starting with only two choices, both of which suck. "White people should never wear kimonos" and "White people should be able to wear kimonos" both ignore the nuance of this specific situation, so why even start with those as the only two choices? If the first-pass if going to be "Don't be one of those people who thinks that cultures should never interact", I think most people don't need that advice. I think you can just start in with listening and valuing the opinions of people of different cultures, and comparing any possible personal benefit of [doing thing] against the ways that [doing thing] will affect people in other cultures.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:37 PM on October 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


Metatalk.
posted by Conspire at 6:40 PM on October 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


OMG THANK YOU THANK YOU
posted by twist my arm at 6:42 PM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


"The other responded that she didn't feel bad about taking or using anything that historically belonged to a country that was an oppressor and not an oppressee. Somehow that made sense in my head as a metric."

I think that's very relevant for evaluating the degree to which an appropriation could be bad, but it's not an absolute litmus test that will tell you that an appropriation is okay.

That power relationship -- as in versions of colonialism -- can play a huge role in the whole analysis. Not only can it make something truly damaging that would otherwise not be as damaging, it also is fundamental in understanding why the cultural transfer is happening and how it happens, how it progresses. How people understand it, on both sides. It colors the whole process.

So that's very important and I think it's clearly important in the discussion in this article and this thread.

But I think that cultural transfers can be appropriation and be harmful/unethical outside that context, independently of the power relationship. Miko's excellent comment earlier provides a framework for thinking about this stuff that is more broad than the power relationship -- although you can see how where there's a power imbalance, that will pretty radically change how you think about and evaluate the things that Miko lists as considerations. But where there's not that imbalance, or even when it's a transfer from a more powerful culture to a less powerful culture, you still ought to consider the sorts of things that Miko discusses.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:40 PM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


chatongriffes: The other responded that she didn't feel bad about taking or using anything that historically belonged to a country that was an oppressor and not an oppressee. Somehow that made sense in my head as a metric.

Ivan Fyodorovich: I think that's very relevant for evaluating the degree to which an appropriation could be bad, but it's not an absolute litmus test that will tell you that an appropriation is okay.

Um, I didn't spell it out in my past comments because I didn't think I would need to, and it touches some *very* fraught and complicated topics like españolidad, but do you (abstract you) realize that a) flamenco developed when Spain was by most metrics well past empire power, b) this is the first time in my life I have seen Spanish Romani people alluded to as colonial oppressors instead of a discriminated minority.

(As far as I am concerned, at least one good thing came from Franco's pushing of españoladas: nobody ever can say Spanish Romani people are not Spanish ("... and should be expelled", like happens to Roma people in France, Italy or Eastern Europe). But that does not negate that Spanish Romani are an ethnic minority that is still suffering discrimination)
posted by sukeban at 11:33 PM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


By which I mean to say, sure, flamenco itself has a history of flamenco fusión and there's a lot of mixing with other traditions, go on, but don't do it because of the evil eeevil conquistadores because that would be incredibly ignorant.
posted by sukeban at 11:50 PM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


'What is cultural transfer?'

"May 26th in the EUSP’s Gold Hall the French historian Michele Espagne gave a lecture."

"Within the framework of cultural transfers, Espange offers to rethink the relationship between the center and the periphery, incoming and outgoing parties, and the relationship between influence and power. In his opinion, this is especially important for understanding the history of colonialism as a lengthy process of mutual influence rather than one-sided suppression. The terms used by researchers are not neutral. In asking how France influenced Vietnam, and England influenced Burma, we are already posing a rigid interpretive frame. In Espagne’s view, this influence is always a two-sided and creative process."
posted by clavdivs at 5:03 AM on October 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


The terms used by researchers are not neutral.

True in more ways than this framing acknowledges. I think we have to be pretty careful when using neutral-seeming words like "exchange" and "transfer" in situations associated with cultural oppressions. Their connotations are ones of mutually beneficial trade, when really, much cultural material that entered dominant societies didn't come about through fair processes of trade or open, consensual sharing; nor did the cultural material that left those societies to transform those they oppressed represent a free exchange. In many cases it was forced by law and reinforced by physical violence and genocide.

Here is the actual lecture. I only sampled it, it's long and dully presented in that classic European university way and I have just a few minutes right now. I would like to see what others have to say about this content and point of view. Taking quick stock of it in light of my work in a field that deals a lot with cultural "exchange" (also not a neutral term), it strikes me as reflective of scholarship that was super important 15, 20, 30 years ago in breaking down Eurocentric narratives of which way exchange went and who was in control - in short, that European imperial powers didn't just send culture outward, they were also transformed by cultural adoptions and appropriations. Which is, I think at this point, something most people, let alone scholars of art and cultural history, completely recognize as true on its face, thanks to the decay of those older narratives brought about in part by thinkers like this.

At the same time, in my admittedly very brief-before-work-over-coffee poking around, I do not see where Espagne or others working with notions of "cultural transfer" have engaged much directly with issues of appropriation as it plays into "one-sided suppression." He and the other mostly linguists who seem to write about it the most seem more concerned with how the "transfer" changed the oppressing power than how it changed the suppressed people. And yes, there are interesting things to study in the way words, fashions, ideas, habits move through cultures when they come into contact and collide. But I think the modern movement to problematize cultural appropriation, while acknowledging that all of that happens, is doing nothing more offensive than asking thoughtful people to take notice of the ways this has done harm to so many communities in so many ways, and more recent scholarship has worked to detail those harmful effects and their mechanisms, which really takes the idea of "transfer" one step further. That project of problematization and acknowledgement of harm should not be so difficult to incorporate, even while pursuing scholarship that looks at multiple ripples of influence when cultures come into contact.

Espagne believes that the most promising use for the concepts of cultural transfers is in combating the positivist notion of national entities and identities.

So, there's his philosophical orientation, which is a very much post-WWII scholarly orientation and understandable in that context, right? Positive notions of national identity have been seen to get problematic at times. We can all understand that in its own historical context, I'd wager. At the same time, the twentieth-century campaign of breaking down all positivist notions, especially where they can also serve to strengthen, revive, and reunite communities damaged by genocide, violence, limited access to resources, bias, exclusion, demeaning characterizations, legal repressions that prevented cultural expression, and so on, has to be examined critically as potentially taking the form of one more attack on a repressed culture. Also, in my experience talking with and reading the work of people engaged in appropriation and justice issues, there is no lack of acknowledgement that influence goes both ways. The scholar that spoke to our volunteers this week talked about how glass beads and wool, two art materials with no North American origin, have nevertheless been adopted and thoroughly integrated into art forms like Plains beading and Navajo weaving. So it's not that anyone is asserting no transfers ever take place or that cultures are not capable of change, reinvention, adaptation, and taking in new influences. But while I think most people are able to recognize that basic truth, that does not constitute an argument that many forms of appropriation remain bad, culturally erosive, and personally hostile.
posted by Miko at 5:57 AM on October 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


A cautionary tale on the topic of cultural appropriation:

A woman, while visiting a nation in Africa (I forget which one, apologies) was shopping at one of the markets in the city where she was staying, and saw some strings of beads that caught her eye. She bought a couple. She wore them now and then as necklaces later on, and gradually noticed that people looked at her oddly when she did.

Finally - when she was wearing one of these strings of beads at a formal dinner party with some dignitaries, no less - a guest finally took her aside and told her: those particular beads were most commonly used as intimate jewelry, worn under the clothing as a sort of personal adornment that only you and your lover would ever know about. So, effectively, the reason she was getting such odd looks all the time was because she had been walking around with the equivalent of a pair of crotchless panties hanging around her neck.

I read this story many years ago, and took from it the moral that: before you try on one of a different culture's customs, be it food or clothing or cosmetics or dance or what, it may behoove you to know a little bit about what the thing actually is within that culture's context, lest you run the risk of looking like a total doofus.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:11 AM on October 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


To add to my comment above - knowing the context would also, of course, spare you from causing offense to that culture you were appropriating things from, which is of course more important than "not looking like a doofus". But if you can't or won't grok the "not causing offense" justification, then..."not looking like a doofus yourself" may also be a reason you would consider.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:20 AM on October 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I lived as military dependent in Spain during the waning years of the Franco era. We were taught in school about "Gitanos" and the history of flamenco in ways which I think were respectful of the culture. Nevertheless, some of us Americanos still managed to trot out flamenco dancer costumes during Halloween and the Feria de Abril. I hope military dependents on bases overseas still aren't doing that kind of stuff now that everyone should know better.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:25 AM on October 23, 2015


Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Monet, and La Japonaise previously on the Blue. My feelings about this are complicated. Rather than repeat myself here, I'll just point to my comments in that thread.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:54 AM on October 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


(Thanks - I'd missed that first time around. Very interesting.)
posted by Grangousier at 9:21 AM on October 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nevertheless, some of us Americanos still managed to trot out flamenco dancer costumes during Halloween and the Feria de Abril. I hope military dependents on bases overseas still aren't doing that kind of stuff now that everyone should know better.

It's not a Romani dress, it's an Andalusian dress (and of course , the people who go to the Feria de Abril on a horse and own a caseta aren't Romani, they are señoritos with a lot of money), and everyone who dances flamenco or sevillanas wears one, regardless of their ethnicity, so as long as the dresses aren't costume shop crap I wouldn't worry that much. I mentioned before that the Japanese have famously a certain fixation with flamenco, have a whole flamenco class dancing flamenco with deconstructed juban and kurotomesode (to hit several points of discussion at once).
posted by sukeban at 10:57 AM on October 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


The look-but-don't-touch attitude extends to Dia De Los Muertos. As a White person, I feel as uncomfortable at a DDLM party when other White people show up in sugar-skull makeup as I would at a Halloween party if a White person attended in a war bonnet. Sugar skull makeup is something that represents the people of the Central and South American countries, and for me to put it on feels like crossing a line and fully participating in a celebration that ultimately isn't mine. I have no problem attending, admiring the shrines, and enjoying pan de muertos, but that kind of active participation just feels wrong to me. I know other Mexican-American people have expressed discomfort in seeing White people don ceremonial garb, and the least I can do is respect that.

The Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos thing is something that interests me a lot, and has for a long time, from a lot of different angles.

It's interesting that it has become in the last decade or so a lot more of a uniform and Mexican-American holiday, which goes along with it being commercialized, and that "sugar skull makeup" has become the default lens that it's viewed through.

It's a deeply syncretic and idiosyncratic holiday, spanning thousands of years and at least three continents, and I do think it's interesting to think about cultural appropriation through its history. From the European side, it's the Spanish Catholic reinterpretation of the Roman Catholic appropriation of the Roman pagan Lemuria, which notionally went back to Romulus appeasing Remus's spirit. The American side comes through Aztec ritual syncretically absorbed into Catholicism, but even that wasn't a coherent tradition in Mexico — like many syncretic continuations of indigenous religion, the mode of celebration was almost entirely local. There'd be altars and offerings, but both local dates and things like traditional altar materials varied widely.

It only became a codified, widely-observed holiday in Mexico in the 1960s, when the Mexican government established it as a way to promote a coherent Mexican identity, both Catholic and indigenous. The calaveras were connected to this, but had come out of 19th century newspaper satire of the rich and famous as skeletons.

So the stuff like Catrinas are relatively modern compared to the longer history of Aztec Day of the Dead rituals, the sugar skulls only became a national thing in Mexico in the 1960s, and part of the reason that there wasn't much adoption of Dia de los Muertos by Mexican Americans was that most of them initially came from northern Mexico, where the holiday wasn't celebrated as much (and tended to be a much more traditional All Saints/Souls Day).

There are certainly some longstanding Mexican-American celebrations of DdlM, like Self Help Graphics, but for most of its history, it hasn't been a unified tradition anywhere near what Halloween has been in America (or Ireland/Scotland prior to that) — most of the things that we think of as DdlM have not very much to do with how it was celebrated in Mexican Catholicism. It's been a tradition that has very much depended on local custom and was not necessarily seen as tied to Mexican identity.

I'm not Catholic, I'm not Mexican. I do live in LA, which is ground zero for both appropriation and expropriation of the DdlM stuff, and I do celebrate it. I like building an altar to people who have died in my life, with the focus on the last year, and a lot of the symbolism is (as generally happens with syncretic holidays) really broad — the pan de muertos isn't that far from the mola salsa (salted flour cake) of Lemuria. Flowers are an almost universal symbol for the cycle of life and death. I don't feel any real ownership of it, and I'm not sure that feeling ownership outside of a history of participation in familial or local rituals really makes a lot of sense given its history, but I can also understand being annoyed at the expropriation of a ritual recognition of death and remembrance into the HARD EDM festival. I feel annoyed that Halloween has moved from recognizing terror and death as part of quotidian experience and into sexy dress-up party time. But then, I mourn the loss of wassail carousing too.

So when people are upset about appropriation of DdlM, I try to listen to why they're upset. A lot of complaints about reducing Mexican American experience to burlesque make sense, though burlesque was a large part of the point of calaveras to begin with. And like with most religious ceremonies, I have a fundamental conflict of worldview with people who see something sacred beyond the importance of ritual qua ritual. And there are some complaints that are ridiculous or ahistorical, the same way that e.g. Afrocentrism contains a fair number of ahistorical myths. There are also definitely some parallels to hipster subcultural resentment — that annoyance of being into something before it was cool and seeing it go mainstream. But most of the complaints that I've heard are specifically about how people outside of the Mexican tradition interact with Latino culture, with the DdlM only another example of problematic tropes that are seen more broadly.
posted by klangklangston at 12:52 PM on October 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


"...But I think the modern movement to problematize cultural appropriation, while acknowledging that all of that happens, is doing nothing more offensive than asking thoughtful people to take notice of the ways this has done harm to so many communities in so many ways, and more recent scholarship has worked to detail those harmful effects and their mechanisms, which really takes the idea of "transfer" one step further. That project of problematization and acknowledgement of harm should not be so difficult to incorporate, even while pursuing scholarship that looks at multiple ripples of influence when cultures come into..."

I quite agree but it is not just recent scholarship. For example, we know de Gama, in 1498, landed at Calicut, southern end of the Malabar Coast. There is a marker at the spot were this guy drudged ashore to a multi cultural trade route. 14th C. Mosques built like Hindu temples...the syncretism of this area and along comes de Gama, by 1503 he was blasting away. Traders flee to what is today the UAE and jihad was declared. Well, at the 500th anniversary of his landing all the approximate dons want to trod the idea of a ship, speech and placard.
Ya know, for histories sake.

The locals marched to the cite and tossed dung on the marker.

The idea was not to celebrate anything but to analyze and understand. They did it to remember themselves and not have academics celebrate the explanation of Y.

Patrick Smith wrote:

"There is a remote past and the recent, and they are both parts of the picture. Above all, we- we westerners in this case- must dispense with any illusions that we are not within the frame, moving around in the story. Our engagement with the east has been intimate for a century and a half; the foreground has its own history now. There is nothing left in Asia to "come upon" that does not already involve us. There is a strong but useful term to name this condition. Asia is miscegenated, the first portion of the planet that can be so described. To grasp this is to grasp Asia as it is."

Provocative and I'm not sure I agree.

Like reading Yukio Mishima.
posted by clavdivs at 9:10 PM on October 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


So you pretty much paraphrased this. I find your point of view to be obscure and I no longer understand what you're arguing or why you offer it as relevant here. Some things happened in the past, yes, on that I'm sure we can all agree.

It all feels like more pointing to that past to cherrypick incidents of cultural hybridization and argue that they happened (as, obviously, they did, and a hell of a lot longer back than 500 years, too) as part of an argument that, basically, it's okay, and all cultural material is fair game for people today since it's er, already ruined? anyway. I don't even see where anyone here has argued for an idea that a state of untouched cultural purism is the starting point for objection to appropriation especially when it's part of an ongoing oppressive system now, here, in our times. Do you?

Do I have you wrong there?
posted by Miko at 9:35 PM on October 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah the context of the paintings matters here I think. When I've been to Obon festivals in LA, there are white people in kimonos and none of the Japanese I've been there with thought it was bad (in fact, generally they appreciate the interest). But that's a legit contemporary part of Japanese culture.

I (white) have only worn one once, at my wedding in Japan. Everyone kept telling me they thought kimono looked really "cool" on a foreigner. But of course in Japan I am the minority, so cultural appropriation works differently.

And while I know many Japanese immigrants in LA (who usually don't care about this kind of thing, as they identify as Japanese and Japan is hardly a weak country), it is probably very different for Japanese Americans who were born in the US and have more experience with the US view of the culture.
posted by thefoxgod at 12:41 AM on October 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


For the record, the only time I have worn a kimono (a purple komon) in public was when I was offered to dress up in one when I was staying at a ryokan in Kyoto. I am interested in kimono as living fashion, and it all started when I read this article about Tsukikageya's punk yukata. I do own a couple of yukata and a retro unlined cotton kimono (not a yukata: unlined cotton kimono. Kimono makers have been selling ready-made, washable casual kimono made from wool, cotton or acrylics for some years) from Nico @ntique plus a lined komon from Kimonomachi, but since I am still practising how to put one on and there's no place I can conceivably take them, it's not as if I'm going to show them in public, and I wouldn't dream of wearing them as a costume.
posted by sukeban at 3:04 AM on October 24, 2015


klangklangston: There are certainly some longstanding Mexican-American celebrations of DdlM, like Self Help Graphics, but for most of its history, it hasn't been a unified tradition anywhere near what Halloween has been in America (or Ireland/Scotland prior to that) — most of the things that we think of as DdlM have not very much to do with how it was celebrated in Mexican Catholicism.

My little girl briefly asked to be La Muerte from The Book of Life for Halloween this year. We talked about it, and she's now going as something else.

I hadn't at the time, but after reading your comment, I did a search for pre-made costumes based on the movie's characters. There are generic Day of the Dead costumes, but as far as I can see there are none from the movie -- a pleasant surprise. But a handful of homemade tutorials do exist so people can make their own.

I wonder if the movie's producers withheld merchandising rights.
posted by zarq at 6:46 AM on October 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


[One comment deleted. Clavdivs, I think your convo with miko is getting pretty confusing here, and will be better to follow up personally via email if you guys want to continue with that sort of offshoot discussion. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 7:04 AM on October 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


"My little girl briefly asked to be La Muerte from The Book of Life for Halloween this year. We talked about it, and she's now going as something else.

I hadn't at the time, but after reading your comment, I did a search for pre-made costumes based on the movie's characters. There are generic Day of the Dead costumes, but as far as I can see there are none from the movie -- a pleasant surprise. But a handful of homemade tutorials do exist so people can make their own.

I wonder if the movie's producers withheld merchandising rights.
"

"La Muerte" is almost a Catrina, who were meant to ridicule the vanity of upper class Mexican women adopting European fashions (being appropriated by whites has some interesting irony there). The whole Book of Life thing is weird since it's, I dunno, like the Disney version of Hercules or something. Where that falls on the line of things that are OK to reappropriate, I don't know enough to say.

I will say that Mictecacihuatl, in her role as presiding over the festivals of the dead, would be an interesting one — but she's not a calavera, she's flayed and has her mouth open to swallow stars.

I'll also say that I don't really have a clear sense of the way that Aztec mythology still exists in Nahua culture — like a lot of pagan pantheons, it seems like the gods and spirits were local with a lot of variation (i.e. Jupiter and Zeus). But the Aztec were Nahuatl, rather than all Nahua being Aztec, and the Nahua still definitely exist (as do the Maya and Mixtec, etc.). So whether the appropriation is closer to dressing up as Dis or Persephone versus a Gentile dressing up as Salome or Ruth isn't something I would feel comfortable deciding for a kid (and frankly, I'm not even sure those analogies track since Semitic religion claims a different historicity than Mezoamerican). The other thing I wonder about with contemporary Nahua is their relationship to the historical Aztecs — a big part of why Cortez was able to conquer the Aztecs is that pretty much everyone else hated them and teamed up to take them down.
posted by klangklangston at 12:12 PM on October 25, 2015


omg i am asian american and wearing a chopstick in my hair right now

what does this mean

hope i dont hafta take it out cuz my hair is still damp from washing and the cat will defo try to eat it
posted by salix at 7:05 PM on October 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not even sure those analogies track since Semitic religion claims a different historicity than Mezoamerican

Wouldn't the parallel need to be something like dressing up as God? That would probably ruffle some feathers in both churches and synagogues. It's not the same sort of thing as the kimono try-on sessions at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, though, because it would be sacrilegious, not appropriative. I don't know much about Mexican culture, but I understand that they do have a tradition of dressing up as these mythological figures, which would potentially make your example both sacrilegious and appropriative.

The usual instance of appropriation from Jewish culture is Klezmer music. I don't feel that this appropriation is a big deal in itself, but I do feel weird when I see musicians dress up as "Jews" or "Hasidim" to perform it. I understand that in Poland there are places where you can go to eat "Jewish food" and listen to "Jewish music" all performed by waiters dressed up as Jews. Don't ask where the real ones are ...

The other example is more touchy, because it's religious. Some Christian groups hold a sort of mock-Passover Seder ("just like Jesus would have!"), and this thread has helped me clarify my reaction to it. It's appropriative because it's taking the symbols and cultural elements of one group and applying them elsewhere, for a different purpose. It's an especially egregious example (IMO) because the new "Seder" isn't meant for Jews at all. Artists who borrow music or other cultural elements can claim to be part of a cultural continuum – sometimes that's a valid defense, sometimes it isn't. But when cultural elements are taken for use within an exclusionary or triumphalist group there can be no continuum; it's just another form of subordination.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:45 PM on October 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I've been to (and helped hold) seders where 75% of the table was Christian, but the seders were organized by and for the Jews and our Christian friends were there to share a meal and learn something about Judaism. That's a *really* different feel than what Joe in Australia is describing.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:05 AM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yep. I've held Seders in my home where most of the people attending were not Jews. It can be a fun learning experience for all involved, and definitely not appropriation.
posted by zarq at 1:19 PM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some Christian groups hold a sort of mock-Passover Seder ("just like Jesus would have!"), and this thread has helped me clarify my reaction to it.

I don't actually think that's appropriation as much as it is fetishization and evangelism.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:53 PM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


omg i am asian american and wearing a chopstick in my hair right now

what does this mean


...that you'd be the first one I've heard of doing that? I mean, you do you. I'm not going to stick chopsticks in my hair, but then again, I keep mine short. Manbuns/topknots are not a look that seems to work for me.

It still strikes me as weird. I don't stick forks in my hair, though I may have used a plastic one as a backscratcher once.
posted by qcubed at 3:41 PM on October 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


The other example is more touchy, because it's religious. Some Christian groups hold a sort of mock-Passover Seder ("just like Jesus would have!"), and this thread has helped me clarify my reaction to it. It's appropriative because it's taking the symbols and cultural elements of one group and applying them elsewhere, for a different purpose.

I understand your reaction -- but I also can't help but reflect that the Passover tradition is a part of Christian culture as well, albeit not as central. Things are complicated when you're talking about shared things, particularly between a group which has traditionally been a minority and that which has been a majority. The Tanakh is shared, too, of course.
posted by jb at 8:20 PM on October 26, 2015


It hasn't been part of Christian culture for nearly two thousand years. Strictly speaking, it has never been part of Christian culture at all because almost everything recognisable about a Seder postdates the Destruction of the Temple. I.e., take away three matzos, a Seder plate (including everything on it), a cup for Elijah, the formalised liturgy, and gefilte fish. You're left with four cups of wine and some flatbread. Maybe some lettuce, but definitely not horseradish.

In this case, though, I'm talking about a service which is explicitly patterned after a modern Jewish Seder except with interjections like "and now we take three matzos – THREE LIKE THE TRINITY – and we break the middle matzo – AS JESUS WAS BROKEN – and also notice the stripes on the matzos LIKE WHIP MARKS and the broken one is concealed until it will RETURN AT THE END OF DAYS the meal IN GLORY as dessert."

I am not making this up. The whole point of this (very much unlike Restless Nomad's, of course) is to demonstrate Jewish blindness to the supposed Christian symbolism of the Seder and how Jews have the physical ("carnal") element of religion but not the spiritual one.1 Sometimes these things are meant as a sort of halfway house to Christianity; sometimes they're just internal events. I find them offensive either way: surely there's nothing more appropriative than saying "your thing isn't your thing, and anyway, you're doing it wrong."

1 cf. the classic Christian artistic motif, "The Church and the Synagogue".
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:38 PM on October 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yeah, the Mormons do seders at BYU and call it an "interfaith service." They've been doing it annually since 1973.

There are also several articles online that talk about the symbolism of the seder and ways Mormons believe it refers to the Christian messiah. The "Christian Resource Institute" has a full page on "Introduction to a Christian Seder: Recovering Passover for Christians."

"Recovering." As if our tradition had ever belonged to them in the first place.

Why Christians Should Not Host Their Own Passover Seders :
"Christians mounting their own reading of the Haggadah almost always want to discuss how Jesus is like the paschal lamb, using the occasion to show how all the Hebrew scriptures point to Jesus as fulfilling the prophecies. This theological exercise, known as supersessionism, is problematic enough in a purely Christian context, but as part of a Jewish ritual it is deeply out of place.

Spinning the “Old Testament” this way reduces the prophecies, the ambiguities that Jewish scholars have debated for centuries in the Talmud and in yeshivas, the morals derived from stories of flawed protagonists and, in fact, the entire narrative arc of the Jewish people as simply a preamble to the main act. Because Jewish people do not believe this interpretation of their holy texts and given the atrocities committed by members of our own faith because of this difference in belief, it’s like adding salt to the wounds of history for a Christian family to take one of the most sacred Jewish celebrations and twist it to reflect our own beliefs.

Christian families hosting seders is also problematic because it contributes to the objectification of our Jewish neighbors. Too often we conveniently forget that in 2,000 years, Judaism has changed quite a bit from what we read about in Acts. (For instance, although Jesus would have celebrated Passover, he did not celebrate it with the type of seder that is commonly hosted today.) And any knowledge we gain of ancient Judaism does not translate automatically to knowledge of modern-day Jewish people.

So, we come to equate “Jewish” in our minds with dudes in robes and scarfed women carrying baskets and we miss out on true community. Mimicking modern Jewish people by performing their ritual only continues this trend of objectification. And I might add, on a pastoral note, that once we lose sight of other human beings as children of God, we have missed the boat entirely."
More:
"If it were not for the history of justification by Christians for violence against Jews and the Holocaust, perhaps holding a Seder could be seen as a fairly benign practice of pretending to be another by trying out their rituals. I wonder, though, how Christians would feel about Jews or Muslims having play Eucharists? Dressing someone up like a priest and saying the words from the Book of Common Prayer?

Addressing some of the reasons that are given in spite of the history

Jonathan Klawans, writing in Biblical Archaeology Review, discusses the question – Was the Last Supper a Seder? The short answer is “Most likely, it was not.”

Most scholars currently doubt that the Passover meal and the Last Supper were the same or even historically related. The Gospels do not offer a consistent timing of the Last Supper. Also where are the other elements: bitter herbs, the lamb, the four cups of wine?

Modern day celebrations of the Passover are a melding of traditions from shortly after the destruction of the Temple (70AD), through the early church and Middle Ages using the Exodus story as the base. To this day more is being added to the Haggadah (the book that is used for the Seder)"

posted by zarq at 7:38 AM on October 27, 2015


the Passover tradition is a part of Christian culture as well, albeit not as central.

This is not true. And it is certainly not true that the modern Passover tradition -- with the Seder, with the Haggadah, etc -- is part of Christian culture because it came up long after Jesus was alive. It is not the case that everything Jews came up with ever, even after the religions split, is ALSO Christian culture because Christianity developed from Judaism, and the Passover tradition as people envision it is one of those things that is not Christian.

This doesn't mean Christians can't attend seders -- they can. It does mean that they probably shouldn't host them (without Jews -- real Jews, not Jews who are really Christians), and that they definitely shouldn't host them and make them all about Jesus.
posted by jeather at 7:43 AM on October 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


A google search turned up this Haggadah Chronology. There's also this page about the Haggadah, which is readable, but very dense.
posted by zarq at 7:50 AM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


interestingly enough I just went to google if the plural of haggadah would be haggadim or haggadot and the first thing that came up was a link to a site called "hebrew for christians".
posted by poffin boffin at 8:53 AM on October 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


"This is not true. And it is certainly not true that the modern Passover tradition -- with the Seder, with the Haggadah, etc -- is part of Christian culture because it came up long after Jesus was alive. It is not the case that everything Jews came up with ever, even after the religions split, is ALSO Christian culture because Christianity developed from Judaism, and the Passover tradition as people envision it is one of those things that is not Christian."

The modern tradition, no, but celebration of Passover seder continued in the Christian church for a couple hundred years, until it got wrapped up in the Easter Controversies that declared Saturday Easter celebrations anathema. Even then, it took another 400 or so years to resolve (hinging in large part on dates and solar versus lunar calendars) and gave us the lovely-named heresy "quartodecimanism." And Passover is still a large part of the Easter narrative for a lot of sects.

Messianic Jews still practice it too, but they're outliers on both Jewish and Christian practice.
posted by klangklangston at 12:18 AM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Klangklangston, when people talk about Passover in a modern context they invariably mean Passover as practiced by Jews with the cultural and religious framework that has developed over the past two thousand years. They don't mean, e.g., Saint Paul's description of Jesus as "our Passover". But even if they did, what would this have to do with a modern church appropriating modern Jewish symbols and rituals?

As for Passover being "part of the Easter narrative", surely you realise that the point of this narrative is that Jesus is the "fulfillment" of the Passover sacrifice. It's precisely this Christian supercessionism that makes the appropriation of Jewish rituals and symbols so offensive. I feel that it's like the use of Native American symbols in American sporting or other public events; it just adds insult to injury.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:46 AM on October 28, 2015


klangklangston: And Passover is still a large part of the Easter narrative for a lot of sects.

Yeah, and as Joe notes, that's a prime example of Christian supercessionism / replacement theology, which preaches that Judaism is only a foreshadowing for Jesus and the rise of Christianity.

Messianic Jews still practice it too, but they're outliers on both Jewish and Christian practice.

To be clear: they are Christians. Not Jews. Their entire cult is based on classic Christian supercessionist conversion tactics.
posted by zarq at 7:17 AM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


So-called Messianic Jews are really the nee plus ultra of religious cultural appropriation. They are charismatic Christians that have appropriated Jewish practices largely as a mechanism for proselytizing to Jews.
posted by maxsparber at 8:16 AM on October 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


i will crush them with the mitzvah tank
posted by poffin boffin at 7:34 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm a Jew. My mom is an evangelical Christian. We've shared Seders -- they have a different meaning for her than they do for me. But it is part of her religion, too, albeit a less significant part.

Maybe it's because I'm not at all offended by replacement theology. Of course Christians think their religion has replaced Judaism - if they didn't, they would be Jewish, not Christian. Just like it is a tenet of Islam that the Koran has superseded previous holy books, and the Baha'i believe their prophet superseded Mohammad -- and will be superseded in turn. Their belief in supercession doesn't affect me -- They read Isaiah differently from me, but it doesn't harm me that they do so.

As for Messianic Jews: some were born Jewish, some were not.

I don't own Judaism, I've borrowed it for a time. If someone else finds parts of it useful, but not all, I'm happy for them to use it. I find them far less bothersome than Jews who tell me I'm not Jewish or that I'm doing Judaism wrong because I don't do it like them.
posted by jb at 9:25 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


As for who is a Jew and who is not: I'm pretty sure it's not so cut and dried. Anyone converted by a Reform Beit Din is not a Jew, according to some people.

Identity is both personal and social. Messianic Jews consider themselves to be Jewish; the (vast) majority of the Jewish community do not.
posted by jb at 9:30 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


You should ask your mother's congregation whether "Messianic Jews" consider Jew Jews to be Jewish. You may be surprised at the answer you get. Most Christian denominations claim to be "the true Israel", based on passages like Romans 9:6–13. I took this from the KJV, but I added quotation marks to make the Biblical references clearer.
[...] For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.

That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son.

And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
This is a theoological argument for supersessionism. It reinterprets the birth narratives in Genesis as being coded prophecies of the rise of Christianity: Jews ("the elder") are Esau, the "hated" one and Christians ("the younger") are Jacob, the "loved" one. There are many, many more references like this in teh Christian scriptures and later theological works.

This is why I said the subject was touchy, up above. On the one hand, I think it's in bad taste to tell people that they're doing religion wrong. On the other hand, I don't think religion makes it OK to tell people "your identity, your entire identity, is false. We are who your identity is. Everything you think about your identity, that's us."
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:14 AM on October 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is why I said the subject was touchy, up above. On the one hand, I think it's in bad taste to tell people that they're doing religion wrong. On the other hand, I don't think religion makes it OK to tell people "your identity, your entire identity, is false. We are who your identity is. Everything you think about your identity, that's us."

I think we're arguing at cross purposes.

Of course, anyone who tells someone else that their religion is wrong is being an asshole.

But there are Christians who are interested in learning more about the Jewish parts of their own faith who aren't saying that. They will read Isaiah, for example, as prophecy of Christ -- but they don't come tell you that you have to read Isaiah that way.

I know, because my mom is one. I interact with Christians a lot.

Sometimes, as I talk to other Jewish people, I wonder if the majority of their religious discussions with Christians have only been with strident (and offensive) Christians -- because those who aren't that way tend not to push their religion onto other people. It's a serious selection bias. Certainly, that's the way many people at my synagogue talk.

Whereas I have no choice: I live an interfaith life. My partner and I are Jewish; my mother is an evangelical Protestant; my uncle converted to Catholicism. I live in a city where the second largest religion after Christianity is Islam, and my boss is Ismaili.

Getting back to the topic of the thread - cultural appropriation - I live in a cultural soup where it's not easy to draw sharp and distinct lines. My friend's family are Jews from Tunisia - he taught me how to make a "kufi", a North African style kippah, of a very similar design to what Muslims wear, and it's now my favourite (comfortable, flattering). But I wonder if some people here would say that I'm appropriating North African and/or Sephardic culture, as I am neither. (Of course, I'm not Ashkenazi either - brisket is as new to me as kufis).

I understand some of the frustration with the Christian use of Jewish ritual, especially when it is done with an implicit narrative of "we know what this ritual really means -- the Jews don't understand the true meaning". I'm offended by that attitude. But I also think that it can be more complicated, and not all Christians exploring Jewish ritual (with Jews or on their own) are thinking that. They may be instead wanting to learn more about the Jewish background of their own religion. 2/3 of their Bible is the Tanakh -- maybe modern denominations don't read the prophets and writings as much as maybe they should, but historically Christians read the whole. Their cultural imagination draws heavily on the Tanakh. For example: I recently had to speak on Lech L'cha -- and I chose to concentrate on Chapter 14, the War of the Four Kings against the Five. I chose this chapter because I had never read it, in church or synagogue - it's usually skipped in our discussion of the patriarchs. But when I googled, I found out that medieval and early modern artists had done many drawings and paintings depicting these events. It reminded me that at a time when people may have only had one or two books, they read those books cover to cover.
posted by jb at 6:33 AM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


But there are Christians who are interested in learning more about the Jewish parts of their own faith who aren't saying that. They will read Isaiah, for example, as prophecy of Christ -- but they don't come tell you that you have to read Isaiah that way.

Messianic Jews / Jews 4 Jesus / Hebrew Christians etc., were the wrong example for you to raise, then, since they are a Christian missionary movement, no matter what they happen to call themselves. They actively proseletyze Christianity to Jews. As a general rule, we don't proseletyze. Fundamentalists like the Lubavitchers may try to get Jews from other sects to partake in various rituals of Judaism, but they're not seeking converts.

If you want to separate two categories of Christians in this discussion: those who consider themselves Christian and like to appropriate various Jewish rituals, versus Christians who call themselves Jews, that's fine. But the example you initially raised is of the latter, not the former. And noting that a difference does exist seems rather important.
posted by zarq at 7:04 AM on October 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


If they are learning about contemporary Jewish practices as an interfaith gesture, I have no issue. I wouldn't even object if they were doing some sort of reenactment of Passover during the time of Jesus.

But a lot of these take the contemporary celebration of Passover -- most of which developed after the start of Christianity, mind you, and use it as a Christian event. This is not someone exploring the Jewish roots of Christianity. This is someone behaving as though everything made by Jews, even after the religions separated, nonetheless belongs to Christians, and has Christian meetings.

I come from a synagogue with a long and very early history of interfaith work, and a lot of it starts with learning how to be respectful. These sorts of Christian Passovers, that imperially steal modern Jewish practices, are not respectful.
posted by maxsparber at 7:05 AM on October 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Timothy Burke, All Saints Day
When I have had students read Frederick Lugard’s The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa, which was basically the operator’s manual for British colonial rule in the early 20th Century, one of the uncomfortable realizations many of them come to is that Lugard’s description of the idea of indirect rule sometimes comes close to some forms of more contemporary “politically correct” multiculturalism. Strong concepts of appropriation have often been allied with strong enforcement of stereotypes and boundaries. “Our culture is these customs, these clothing, this food, this social formation, this everyday practice: keep off” has often been quickly reconfigured by dominant powers to be “Fine: then if you want to claim membership in that culture, please constantly demonstrate those customs, clothing, food, social formations and everyday practices–and if you don’t, you’re not allowed to claim membership”.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:27 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


it might also require someone to wear, use and enact their own “proper culture”.

I feel like this isn't a completely well-founded fear and it sounds like the kind of problem white people project onto the issue and think is going to become a serious problem, but doesn't really seem to be something the nonwhite activists actually advancing the ideas are finding to be a significant threat or struggle.

It's interesting, but I can't say that that dynamic translates perfectly. For instance, here in the US the federal government and tribal governments work hard to adjudicate who's a member of which Native groups, and they don't depend on clothing, food, and practices to do it - they generally depend on genealogical proofs/blood quantum. And the Native graduate students I work with are fairly adamant that though people participate in different ways in various cultural practices, not all do, and that there are many ways of being Indian and not all of them are a visible performance.

Also, it sort of assumes that all cultural expression is "someone's" and that there are no individual expressions left if we ask people not to appropriate sensitive cultural material from one another or to appropriate in ways that don't give proper credit to sources. But in fact, there's still the pop culture that we're all a part of, the modern culture of consumerism and multiple identities and so forth. It's really not like we're all going to give up and start wearing paper bags because it's "too dangerous" to be influenced by anything other than your ethnic/racial culture of origin. That's an argument from extremes and a fairly trumped-up fear.
posted by Miko at 1:33 PM on November 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


(first sentence of that was a quotation from the Burke post)
posted by Miko at 1:54 PM on November 11, 2015


[...] there's still the pop culture that we're all a part of [...]

I think we imagine this to be more true than it is. A standard comic trope (very common, at least until no more than a few decades ago) was the idea of someone from the "wrong" ethnic background dressed in "our" sort of clothing or participating in "our" sort of activities. This goes way back; the earliest examples are probably Greek comedies. So there's cultural policing even on the borders of mainstream culture.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:27 PM on November 11, 2015


So, my kids have randomly gotten obsessed with old radio shows. And we're in the car the other night, and Fibber McGee and Molly comes on. And there's this whole thing with the guy who runs the restaurant, who's Greek. That's basically the whole joke - this guy is Greek! Hilarity.

Ugh. Luckily the kids like Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar better anyway.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:32 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think we imagine this to be more true than it is

I think we imagine it to be less true than it is, because it's the water we're swimming in, and we're more or less blind to it. There may be edges here and there where assimilation is the stuff of comedy, but much less than there used to be, and in general I think it's a smallish phenomenon compared to the incontrovertible truths of the existence of shared global mass, national, regional, local, institutional, occupational, family and regional cultures.

In any case, I am about fed up with handwringing from white academics whose fears about unrealistic extensions of what is essentially respect for others and a loosening of the grip of white supremacy to be completely overblown.
posted by Miko at 2:52 PM on November 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Messianic Jews / Jews 4 Jesus / Hebrew Christians etc., were the wrong example for you to raise, then

That was an entirely different issue, about who is allowed to call themselves "Jews".

Frankly, I don't police who gets to conceive of themselves as Jewish. I was just informed the other day that my SIL's atheist, Israeli colleague says that I am not Jewish and never will be, because you cannot convert to Judaism, you must be born to it (centuries of Rabbinic teaching notwithstanding).

Put yourself in the shoes of the Messianic family my friend knows: the father was raised Jewish, but came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. He still feels Jewish, he has traditions that connect him to his past - how is he appropriating if he continues those traditions? Does his belief in Jesus mean he can't light the Shabbat candles in his mother's candle sticks, and say the prayers he was taught? -- which he still believes are necessary because he doesn't believe in supercessionism, and thinks a good Christian should follow Halacha as well as the teachings of Jesus. He probably follows Halacha better than a lot of followers of Rabbinic Judaism, including me. Why do I get to be like the bouncer of a club, telling him his new shoes violate the dress code? Maybe he should get to take the club of "Judaism" with him?

Over the last 3000 years, there have been many kinds of Jews - Temple worshippers, Saduccees, followers of the Rabbis, Karaites - but also Ethiopian Jews who had their holy texts not in Hebrew but Ge'ez, Bene Israel in India, whose synagogues are as colourful as the churches and temples of their neighbours (but who were pushed into "normative" Judaism - aka European Judaism - in the 19th century), the Jews of Kaifeng who pass their religion along patrilineal as opposed to matrilineal lines and who traditionally intermarried with the Muslim community.

Who am I to declare - you are Jewish, you are not - because of a difference of practice or belief. My life isn't Jewish, according to any Orthodox person, while I hold that the actions of some Jews fail to follow the more important commandments regarding their treatment of the poor or of the stranger -- the CJN ran an oped supporting the Canadian Tories the day after Yom Kippur, right after we had just finished reading the bit of Isaiah exhorting us that any fast that doesn't feed the poor, clothe the naked and house the homeless isn't a worthy fast.

Anyways: that's my position. I don't police other people's religious identities. They want to call themselves Jews who believe in Christ, that's fine. They show up at my house, I'll offer them tea and (kosher) cookies, and we'll debate the necessity of salvation through Christ (which I don't believe in, hence the conversion) until we're blue in the face. Unless I'm busy or just don't feel like it - in which case I'll politely decline like I do to any other proselytiser, whether Jehovah's Witnesses or Chabad. I'm not more offended by them than I am by all of the Orthodox missionaries, trying to force other diaspora Jews into Ashkenazic or Sephardic norms.
posted by jb at 4:53 AM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I feel you on this, jb, especially the oddness of trying to adjudicate the complicated claims of religious fellowship (I once got into a pretty bitter argument with Astro Zombie over an atheist friend who had been raised Jewish and pointedly has rejected his Jewish identity because of his atheism).

And since I was the one who brought up Messianic Jews, I think it's worth noting that there's a longstanding and coherent argument that the notion that the messiah has come is antithetical to the core precepts of Judaism — specifically, that Jews await the messiah, and that worshipping a false messiah is apostate idolatry. There's also a pretty strong argument that Jesus didn't fulfill the requirements to be considered a true messiah, most obviously that he neither rebuilt the Temple nor ushered in an age of peace. And that's before even getting to the doctrinal stuff like whether the Trinity would violate monotheism.

You could compare it to someone who said they were Christian but didn't think that Jesus returned from the dead or that his sacrifice entailed posthumous salvation. Nearly all Christian sects would call that person a heretic. Because of that, as far as I know, no major Jewish organization considers Messianic Jews anything but apostates.

I do think that Messianic Jews are more varied and theologically weird than some of the folks here are giving them credit for — it's not just Jews for Jesus, but also folks like Congregation Zera Avraham, who explicitly don't proselytize. (But it's worth noting that even in that case, the traditional Jewish authority that's cited explicitly describes them as Christian.) Their doctrine isn't comfortably Christian on a lot of levels, and they at least purport to maintain Jewish religious practice, and there are some other sects and congregations that also purport to practice similar dual-covenant theologies that neither Christians nor Jews really want to cosign. I'm not sure describing them as appropriating would be, well, appropriate.

That all said, it's also worth remembering that these folks are the black swans of about 1500 years of often-violent supercessionism, and that the general Christian use of Jewish traditional practice is supercessionist and there can be a tendency to overstate the existence of some exceptions as thereby refuting the general truth that e.g. the Adventist appropriation of Passover can legitimately seem pretty gross to folks who still practice those traditions — the equivalent of tossing a war bonnet on a kid because there aren't any Native Americans around anymore.

So, just as a note, I apologize for muddying the water on this. I grew up in the same town as that Messianic Jewish congregation above, and have had a long interest in fringe religions, especially heterodox Christianity, and succumbed to the fallacy of misleading vividness.
posted by klangklangston at 4:43 PM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not to go down the theology rabbit hole, but...

You could compare it to someone who said they were Christian but didn't think that Jesus returned from the dead or that his sacrifice entailed posthumous salvation.

I feel like this stance is a lot more legitimized under the big umbrella of Christianity than Messianic Jews are in Judaism. Sure, some Christians would call this heretic, but other Christians both call themselves Christian (as in, follower of Christ) without endorsing those literal or even those metaphorical beliefs. Unitarian Christians (as distinct from UUs) among them. I can't speak to how Jews think about who is and isn't a Jew, but the situation seems to be at least a little different for Christians, because there are Christian theologies that are both legitimately Christian, and have long Christian theological traditions, and don't demand those specific beliefs or are generally non-creedal. So it's relatively easy to point to denominations where this isn't apostate, which is quite unlike the situation you describe for Messianic Jews, if that's accurate.
posted by Miko at 4:51 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


i see you've been taken in by the arian heresy
posted by klangklangston at 5:09 PM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


After 16 or so centuries these things become less contentious. See my point, though? I think Messianic Jews - if it's true no widely recognized Jewish organization recognizes them - are much farther outside their respective pale than non-trinitarian and non-creedal Christians are, because those kinds of Christians are recognized by the general Christian fellowship, go to conferences, contribute to theological journals edited by other Christians, etc.
posted by Miko at 5:12 PM on November 12, 2015


After 16 or so centuries these things become less contentious.

maybe for you guys but afaik we're still mad about egypt
posted by poffin boffin at 6:41 PM on November 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Orthodox Jews pray for the downfall of the Roman Empire three times daily. At least, I think it's the Roman Empire. There have been so many, you know.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:03 PM on November 12, 2015


JB wrote: Put yourself in the shoes of the Messianic family my friend knows: the father was raised Jewish, but came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. He still feels Jewish, he has traditions that connect him to his past - how is he appropriating if he continues those traditions?

You've ignored the many answers above. We're not talking about one guy with his particular beliefs. We're talking about a evangelical federation that made a deliberate (and controversial) policy U-turn in the 1970s, to change its marketing from "Hebrew Christians" to "Messianic Jews". As part of this change they incorporated Jewish rituals with Christian twists, like the Christian Seders I mentioned above. That's appropriation; there can be no clearer example of appropriation than that.

So fine, let your friend's father do what he wants. I don't especially care, although I have an academic interest in whether he continues to say "who has commanded us" in Jewish benedictions. If he's not doing this as an individual, though, he ought to be told that he's supporting and participating in a cynical exercise in cultural subordination.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:13 PM on November 12, 2015


I read that as avian heresy because of course I did.
posted by rtha at 7:13 PM on November 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Nestorianism or GTFO.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:15 PM on November 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Chelsea Vowel advances a notion around cultural appropriation she terms "legitimate access." It's the kind of individual/ biographical access to experience that may allow someone to claim legitimate participation in cultural activities not usually associated with their dominant group. In the case of a person whose roots are in a particular religion, even if they later become a convert to another, I think there is a reasonable claim of legitimate access to the tropes of that religion. Like, my mom spent 20 years being raised Catholic before parting ways with the church. But when she goes to services, she has a more legitimate access to the behaviors and customs that happen there than I do, because I was not raised with those habits of observance. In any case, there are times when someone has a form of legitimate access from living in a community a long time, or being enculturated intentionally, etc. That's just one more of the complexities of appropriation. But we shouldn't reason about what is good practice for everyone wanting to cross cultural boundaries by referencing only those unusual cases.
posted by Miko at 7:48 PM on November 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Miko, this isn't about someone with Jewish roots deciding to eat matza. This is about (mostly) non-Jewish evangelical groups that cynically adopt Jewish trappings as a recruitment technique. We've had a lot of talk about cultural appropriation here and in Metatalk; please respect the Jews who keep saying that this is their culture and that it is being appropriated.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:33 PM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


please respect the Jews who keep saying that this is their culture and that it is being appropriated.

Seconding this. Please.
posted by zarq at 5:39 AM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


please respect the Jews who keep saying that this is their culture and that it is being appropriated.

In this conversation, am I Jewish? Which Jew is allowed to draw the lines on cultural appropriation?
posted by jb at 6:09 AM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sorry - that was a weird way to phrase that.

I am Jewish - and I am the person that Miko was responding to.
posted by jb at 6:13 AM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Miko, this isn't about someone with Jewish roots deciding to eat matza.

Uh, I understand that, and was actually supporting your point by talking about the difference between the one guy in jb's comment (who can make a reasonable claim of a certain degree of legitimate access via his upbringing) and the larger movement of everyone else with no such access, for whom it is outright appropriation. Let me make it absolutely clear that the notion of legitimate access supports your point. I agree that Messianic movements are built on appropriation of Jewish culture. I thought my last sentence made that clear enough, but apparently not.
posted by Miko at 6:13 AM on November 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


In this conversation, am I Jewish?

A Jew can be defined one of two ways:

They are born a Jew, making them biologically Jewish.
or
They are religiously (theistically) Jewish. Religious Jews do not have to have been born Jewish to be so.

If you were born a Jew (let's simply say 'to one or more Jewish parents,') then you are ethnically and biologically Jewish.

However, if you adhere to Christian beliefs, including one or more of the following:
* belief in more than one god
* belief in the Trinity
* belief that Jesus Christ was/is G-d, the Son of G-d, a divine being, an intermediary between humans and G-d, a Jewish messiah, a member of the Trinity or a saint

...then you are not religiously Jewish. These beliefs are incompatible with Jewish theology.

By these criteria, are you Jewish?

Which Jew is allowed to draw the lines on cultural appropriation?

My personal belief: in their own life, any Jew can draw the line anywhere. But mainstream Judaism takes a very clear position on Messianics. So the question is not where you are allowed to draw the line. It's "for whom does that line you're drawing apply?"

There are three large Jewish religious denominations in the United States. They are the Reform or Progressives, Conservative and Orthodox. There is a smaller Jewish religious movement, Reconstructionist Judaism, which is an offshoot of Conservativism, but that some theistic Jews now may think of as part of the Reform movement. All four agree that Judaism is incompatible with belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ. I haven't looked, but I'm pretty sure all four have also labelled Messianics a Christian missionary movement.

Some interesting things to note:
1) This is one of the very few points that all four groups agree about. They're notoriously at odds with one another.
2) The three movements don't cover all theistic Jews, but they do cover the vast majority who are affiliated with a synagogue body.
3) Reform Judaism, which is the most flexible denomination regarding many points of ritual and halacha, is adamant that J4J are Christian Missionaries and not Jews.
4) Some Orthodox rabbis have even gone so far as to declare that the Christian Messianics have revoked their biological Judaism as well. Personally, I think that's ridiculous, but it does show how strongly they feel about Messianics.

And they should. Modern, mainstream Jewish culture is very much aware of Christianity's history regarding us. Many generations of Jews were slaughtered, persecuted and even forcibly converted in the name of Jesus by his followers. December 8 will mark the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, and October 28 marked the 50th anniversary of the Nostra aetate, in which the Catholic Church finally deigned to say that Jews are no more responsible for the death of Christ than Christians. It's only been 50 years. And not every Christian is Catholic.
posted by zarq at 7:48 AM on November 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm not arguing whether Messianics are or are not Jewish. I'm stating that it's not my place to tell them how they should personally identify or what rituals they can or cannot perform.

And this comes down to my basic position on cultural appropriation in general: like the author of the original article, I swim in a multicultural sea where culture is shared and traded. My culture is appropriated from all sorts of places, very few of which I can claim by any DNA connection. If I start policing what other people do with culture, I'd be an utter hypocrite.

As for whether I am Jewish: as I noted, I am (at least according to the Reform movement) -- and that was explicitly in response to you and Joe asking Miko to listen to the Jews in the thread. The Jews in this thread (which include me) don't agree about cultural appropriation -- heck, the Jews who live in my house don't agree about cultural appropriation, as my husband and I have been arguing offline about this same issue.
posted by jb at 2:21 PM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm jb's partner, and I've been reading through this thread with some interest after she discussed it with me over breakfast. I just wanted to come in and clarify a few things and also say that (as is fitting in a Jewish home) I actually disagree with some of her positions. I think she's being a bit of a free speech absolutist... but I think that many of her points have more merit than she's being given credit for in this thread. And I think that's because people really are talking about different things with the same name.

First, let me clarify a few things:

1) jb is Jewish. Born a Christian, she left that religion at an early age and, years later, converted to Judaism in a Reform community. This means that a) she does meet zarq's very liberal definition of who is a Jew, but b) she's perfectly correct in saying that a minority of Jews would insist that she is not Jewish because they do not recognise the legitimacy of Reform practice.

2) jb is not American. This is important, because practically the whole thread has been placed in the context of American ideas of ethnicity, race and culture. Maybe appropriately, in this context, as the original topic of discussion is something that took place in an American museum... again but this is something that bears thinking about with care, because the original topic of discussion was somebody from outside that American context commenting on that topic.

It can be very hard for people outside the US to understand the complexities of the US race/ethnicity/culture experience.

Equally, it can be very hard for Americans to understand that their race/ethnicity/culture experience is pretty idiosyncratic.

In my experience, when Americans and people from other countries talk about these matters, we are very much divided by a common language. For example, Americans put great store in the immutability of racial and ethnic categories. In some other countries, those boundaries are much more porous. Americans look on this with horror ("appropriation!") while Brits or Canadians, say, might look at this American reaction with equal horror ("cultural straight jacket! ethnic existentialism!"). Neither reaction is sensitive to the way that the other culture developed in its own way for its own reasons and with its own unique contexts.

That said, let's talk about Jews:

I think there's two separate but interrelated arguments here. One is "are Christians offensive when they do Jewish things?" and the other is "when somebody who is clearly not Jewish to me says that he/she is a Jew, do I gainsay them?".

I'll deal with the second one first, because how you answer it reflects upon the first.

jb's argument, here, is embedded in the context of Canadian Judaism. The Jewish community, in this country, is unusually concerned with drawing boundaries about itself. Even the Reform movement, here, does not accept paternal line descent, will not perform intermarriages. For this reason, a huge debate is about to arise (it's bubbling under the surface) between halachic conservatives, and liberals (like jb) who are being influenced by the modern idea that people should have the right to define their own identity, and that the community has a duty to respect that self-definition. This leads to some more-liberal-than-liberal arguments like "if this person calls themselves a Jew, who am I to disagree?"

I'm somewhere in the middle on this. Jews live in community, so community standards are important. On the other hand, I get really mad when people tell me that my movement "isn't really Jewish". Ultimately, I don't get to police what people in other communities call themselves. I don't have to invite them to my Seder either.

So setting aside what we call these people, how do I feel about people who are incontrovertibly Christians doing Jewish things? Depends on the context:

1. People who definitely were Jews, who convert to Christianity, and just keep doing Jewish things as well: I'm ok with this. It makes me uncomfortable, but so do a lot of Jews (like ultra-right wing fanatics).

2. Christian/Jewish borderline types who don't make their Christian identity explicit and post information online in order to fool Rabbinic Jews into doing Christian things: Very irritating. If I look up a brucha, and get a weird Christian one, I get annoyed. If I try and buy a tallis, and it has crosses or fish on it, I get steamed. This is deceptive, rude, and just makes life harder for everybody.

3. Jews for Jesus: Ugh. Actually, according to the article that Joe in Australia linked, these are a pretty small, largely reviled, loud minority. They're deceptive and confrontational and bad. I don't think they're appropriational, though, because they're doing such a bad job at appropriating that everybody basically thinks they're jerks and refuses to take them seriously.

4. Christians who do Jewish things because they think that this picturesque ceremony can be readily refitted to their own religious practice: Except in extraordinary circumstances, I'm against this. Christians often don't realise that Jewish ceremonies (eg. the Seder) are actually religious ceremonies with spiritual meanings (people have touched upon this bias already). A few months ago a Christian priest asked me if I'd run a Seder for his parishioners. I said that I'd be happy to have people come to my Seder to experience it, but if I ran one for them it wouldn’t really be a Seder, but rather an empty play-acting of a Seder. When put like that he totally understood. And I didn't get angry. And we both learned.

5. Christians making up their own fake Jewy stuff and desecrating our sacred objects: Jews for Jesus nothing! There's apparently this guy called 'Rabbi' Ralph Messer (NB: not a rabbi) who goes around giving (presumably actually selling) Torah scrolls to Christian churches, lying about their provenance, and generally treating them extremely disrespectfully in things he claims are traditional Jewish ceremonies but are anything but. Seriously, look on Youtube if you want to be really, really upset about religious minutia.

So yeah, it's context dependent. But 'appropriation' as an idea is only part of that. 'Historical trauma' as an idea is only part of that. Really, I want to be treated with respect, and I want my religion to be treated as sacred. But I don't feel that respect is a zero sum game. I can be respected better and more authentically when I give other people with other traditions the respect that they deserve as human - and spiritual - beings.
posted by Dreadnought at 4:52 PM on November 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fyi not all Canadian Reform rabbis exclude intermarriage. And not everyone in this discussion is in the US.
posted by jeather at 6:13 PM on November 13, 2015


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